Zoo Berlin is helping to save the Edwards’s pheasant in Vietnam.
Project name: Khe Nuoc Trong Project
Species: Edwards’s pheasant (Lophura edwardsi)
IUCN threatened status: Critically Endangered (CR)
Project location: Khe Nuoc Trong, Vietnam
Greatest threat: Loss of habitat
Response: Setting up protected areas for reintroduction into the wild; establishing a breeding group
Life in the care of humans
In the 1920s, at least 14 pairs of Edwards’s pheasants were captured in Vietnam and taken to France. In the almost 100 years that have passed since then, this small population has fared well in the care of humans and has grown to include more than 1,000 birds worldwide. Zoo Berlin received its first Edwards’s pheasant in 1938, but only got to keep it for a short time. In 2017, after more than 70 years, this rare species returned to the Zoo.
Wiped out in the wildThe last sighting of a wild Edwards’s pheasant in Vietnam was recorded in the year 2000. Concerns for the survival of this endemic species prompted a survey of the last remaining areas of suitable habitat in the Quảng Bình and Quảng Trị provinces, using camera traps to try and spot any remaining individuals. The survey confirmed scientists’ worst fears: the wild population in Vietnam seems to have already been wiped out. The Edwards’s pheasant has therefore been on the IUCN Red List since 2012, classified as “Critically Endangered”.
The impact of war
During the Vietnam War, which lasted some 20 years, the embattled demilitarised zone lay in the province of Quảng Trị – right in the middle of the Edwards’s pheasants’ habitat. This region witnessed the heaviest fighting, including the aggressive use of chemical weapons such as the highly toxic defoliant Agent Orange. The herbicide was sprayed across fields and forests, with catastrophic consequences for the environment and the people living there. Those consequences are still felt to this day.
Forests turn to fields
After the Vietnam war came to an end, the growing human population and rising demand for agricultural produce resulted in the steady decline of the Edwards’s pheasants’ habitat. Areas of restored forest may look intact from the outside, but the creatures that once inhabited them have been wiped out by poachers. It is suspected that the last wild Edwards’s pheasant must have fallen victim to a poacher’s trap. Habitat loss and hunting have very likely resulted in the extinction of this species in the wild.
Protecting precious habitat
Zoo Berlin has teamed up with Viet Nature, the World Pheasant Association, and BirdLife International to launch a project to restore and protect former natural habitats in Vietnam, with a view to eventually reintroducing captive-bred Edwards’s pheasants back into the wild. In 2015, Viet Nature took the first step and signed a 30-year lease agreement for 768 hectares of forest land within the Khe Nuoc Trong area. This area was once the Edwards’s pheasants’ primary habitat and is one of the planned reintroduction sites for the future.
The second stage of preparations for species reintroduction is the creation and coordination of a breeding programme. It is possible that some of the remaining Edwards’s pheasants are now actually hybrids. Genetic analyses are therefore being conducted in European zoos and at Hanoi Zoo to establish which birds are best suited for participation in the breeding programme. Zoo Berlin has assumed management of the international studbook (ISB) for the Edwards’s pheasant, and is therefore responsible for coordinating these global operations. In 2015, four pheasants bred in Europe were taken to Hanoi to reproduce with the last known Edwards’s pheasant left in Vietnam. Roughly a hectare of space has also been set aside within Khe Nuoc Trong, where an on-site breeding station and visitor information centre are to be erected.