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Feeding Ecology, Threats and Conservation Management of Kalij Pheasant (Lophura leucomelanos) in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan

PJZ_54_6_2543-2551

Feeding Ecology, Threats and Conservation Management of Kalij Pheasant (Lophura leucomelanos) in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan

Muhammad Furqan and Zulfiqar Ali*

Environmental Health and Wildlife Laboratory, Institute of Zoology, University of the Punjab, Lahore, Pakistan

ABSTRACT

Pheasants are bioindicators of our ecosystem and their population is declining. We investigated diet composition and threats to kalij pheasant Lophura leucomelanos to prepare conservation and management strategies in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan. The diet analysis was done through crop contents of kalij pheasants, threats were assessed through field surveys, communities meeting, and data from 250 questionnaires during April 2020 and March 2021. Based on analysis of threats data, conservation management strategies are recommended. The diet analysis showed that mostly the kalij consumes plant matter as the major diet. We recovered 45 plant species in major, minor, and trace forms which consisted of seeds, leaves, flowers, fruits, rhizomes, and bulbs. Invertebrates including ants, insects, larvae, and grit were also recorded. According to respondents the highest sighting (62.4%) of kalij pheasant was recorded from the forest, followed by cultivated land (20.4%). Major threats to kalij pheasant include forest fire (41.6%), followed by hunting (27.2%), habitat destruction (18.8%), and natural predators (12.4%). The hunting (n=142) of kalij and hunting index (0.855) was recorded during the study period. The maximum hunting was in the evening (54.23%, n=77) followed by night (28.87%, n=41) and the main purpose was food. Stealing of eggs and chicks capturing was recorded from many sites. As per respondents, local community is also concerned about the conservation of this species. Development of more protected areas for conservation, awareness education, implementation of wildlife laws, patrolling of officials in the breeding season, and long-term monitoring plan can help in the conservation of kalij pheasant.


Article Information

Received 16 August 2020

Revised 24 September 2021

Accepted 07 October 2021

Available online 07 January 2022

(early access)

Published 08 August 2022

Authors’ Contribution

MF and ZA designed the study. MF collected the field data and wrote the article. ZA finalized the article.

Key words

Kalij pheasant, Feeding ecology, Threats, Conservation, Monitoring

DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.17582/journal.pjz/20200816170856

* Corresponding author: zali.zool@pu.edu.pk

0030-9923/2022/0006-2543 $ 9.00/0

Copyright 2022 by the authors. Licensee Zoological Society of Pakistan.

This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).



INTRODUCTION

Galliformes are important avian groups all over the world and known as game birds (del Hoyo et al., 1994; Zhang et al., 2003; Grzimek et al., 2004). Pheasants are useful indicators of environmental quality due to living in forests and used as a source of food (Fuller and Garson, 2000). The diet composition has considerable variation among pheasants, feeding habits, season, availability of food resources, and even by habitat. The diet includes mostly seeds, roots, leaves, shoots, flowers, stems, buds, invertebrates, and even reptiles (Mcgowan, 1994).

Asian pheasants are an important part of ecosystems, but little quantitative information is available on the diet in the wild (Hill, 1985). Study of food analysis is very important in wildlife ecology. The food environment differs concerning variations in food availability both spatially and temporally (McShea, 2000). The analysis of crop contents is very helpful for the identification of a fresh diet (Carss, 1997). Kalij Lophura leucomelanos may prefer insects, worms, larvae, snakes, lizards, herbs, shrubs, roots, tuberous roots, berries, and small seeds (Baker, 1930; Johnsgard, 1986).

Galliformes lack studies about macroscopic ecology, genetics, management, and conservation. Information about these is important to increase long-term monitoring plans for the conservation of Galliformes (Tian et al., 2018). Galliformes are adversely affected due to habitat loss, particularly pheasants (Jones, 2001; Lawes et al., 2006), which cause the loss to their distribution (Deng and Zheng, 2004), rise in mortality (Robinson et al., 2016) and nest survival (Goddard and Dawson, 2009).

All pheasants are facing many threats related to population explosion, intrusion (Nawaz et al., 2000), human disturbance (Storch, 2013), habitat loss (Lawes et al., 2006; Bhattacharya et al., 2007; Zhou et al., 2015), urbanization (McNew and Sandercock, 2013), poaching, and diseases (Miller, 2010). Pheasant population is declining due to hunting because of fascinating plumage and meat, and egg damage in the breeding season (Nan et al., 2004; Bhattacharya et al., 2007; Inskipp et al., 2016) resulting in wiping out several species from natural habitat restricted to patchy areas (Johnsgard, 1999).

The primary causes of biodiversity loss are due to human conversion of land cover and its uses (Haines-Young, 2009). Their population has also decreased due to poaching in their intrinsic habitat (Nawaz et al., 2000). There is a need of comprehensive research on the effects of human interference on Galliformes (Froese et al., 2015; Zhang et al., 2015). Sufficient data collection of particular species is materially required for conservation (Fuller and Garson, 2000).

Kalij pheasant has not been extensively studied in their natural habitat and their population is decreasing (Andleeb et al., 2012). Threats become more severe and cause the decline of a population. There is a need for a comprehensive management strategy for conservation awareness and population monitoring programs for Kalij in their natural habitat with the help of the local community. Kalij pheasant is distributed in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, but in-depth research is lacking about their diet, threats, and conservation management, hence scientific efforts are necessary to elaborate the ecological data about Kalij pheasant.

MATERIALS AND METHODS

Study area

Azad Jammu and Kashmir is blessed with enriched flora and fauna. The current research was carried out in Mirpur Division which consists of three districts i.e., Mirpur (33o1480’N, 73o7437’ E), Bhimber (32°9753’N, 74°0858’E) and Kotli (33o5008’N, 73o9007’ E) (Fig. 1). Mirpur Division is situated in the southeastern part of the State of AJ and K. It is bordered by Rawlakot District in the North, District Jhelum in the South, Indian Administrated Kashmir in the East, and Rawalpindi in its West. The study area covers an area of 4,388 km2, elevation ranges between 270m–2000m above sea level (asl). Topographically Mirpur and Bhimber regions are plains, with scattered small hills and nullahs while district Kotli has mostly hilly areas with small, scattered plains.

Diet analysis

The crop analysis technique was used for the identification of diet (Rosenberg and Cooper, 1990; Lopes et al., 2016). There were five kalij pheasant found dead during the field visit of different localities of the Mirpur Division (Duraes and Marini, 2005), were kept in a plastic bag and frozen. The birds were defrosted in the laboratory. The crop contents of five kalij pheasant were also collected from the hunters in the hunting season. The crop and gizzard contents were removed and preserved in ethanol (70%). The plant species were identified in the Botany department of Mirpur University of Science and Technology following Carss (1997). After identification, plant fragments were counted based on occurrence (presence/ absence) and categorized as major, minor, or trace items. The presence of invertebrate parts was also recorded.

Threats and conservation management

Threats to kalij pheasant were found by conducting extensive surveys, in the study area from April 2020 to March 2021. Threats were assessed by questionnaire, interviews, group discussions, participatory observations with the local community, hunters, and wildlife staff. Meetings were organized to determine the opinions of the local community on hunting, forest fire, and snaring activities in the study area. A total of 250 questionnaires were filled from Mirpur Division by the local community. The first part of the questionnaire was about the respondent’s personal information i.e., name, gender, age, education, occupation, and the second part designed to collect information regarding the presence, population trend, major threats, hunting pressure, hunting methods, and likeness for conservation of kalij pheasant in respective areas. Based on threats data, strategies are recommended for management and conservation of kalij pheasant.

Hunting index

Illegal hunting of kalij pheasant was reported from the study area. Hunting index was found out by following:

Hungting Index=Hunting incidents reported/Total number of survey

Hunting data were collected by interviews from hunters and wildlife department staff of AJ and K.

Statistical analysis

All field data were statistically analysed using MS Excel (Ver. 2016).

RESULTS

Diet

The diet analysis showed the omnivorous behaviour of kalij pheasant. A total of 45 plant species were recovered from the crop contents including tree species (n=7), shrub species (n=12), herbs (n=15), grasses (n=10) and one climber. The parts of plants included seeds, tubers, leaves, flowers, and fruits. The major diet consisted of Ziziphus mauritinia, Grewia optiva, Mallotus philippensis, Olea ferruginea, Gymnosporia royleana, Ziziphus nummularia, Lantana indica, Melilotus indica, Brassica campestris, Pennisetum glaucum, Dichanthium annulatum, Heterpogon contortus. The minor diet components of food included Ficus religiosa, Berberis lyceum, Rubus ellipticus, Oxalis corniculata, Medicago polymorpha, Amaranthus viridis, Mentha royleana, Zea mays, Triticum aestivum, Sorghum halepensi, Chrysopogon aucheri, Eleusine indica, Dioscorea bulbifera (bulb). The invertebrates included different ants, insects and larvae while grit was also recorded (Table I).

 

Table I. Diet analysis of Kalij pheasant from Mirpur Division Azad Jammu and Kashmir.

S. No

Species name

Local name

Habit

Availability

Category

1

Ziziphus mauritiana

Bair, Unab

T

Apr-July

Major

2

Grewia optiva

Dhaman

T

Apr-Sep

Major

3

Mallotus philippensis

Kameela

T

Feb-Apr

Major

4

Ficus palmata

Phagwarri

T

May-Sep

Major

5

Olea ferruginea

Kahu

T

Apr-May

Major

6

Ficus religiosa

Peepal

T

May-Sep

Minor

7

Citrus sinensis

Malta

T

Jan-March

Trace

8

Gymnosporia royleana

Patakhi

S

Sep-Jan

Major

9

Tulip clusiana rhizome

Lady tulip

S

Mar-Jul

Trace

10

Carissa opaca

Garanda

S

Apr-Jun

Major

11

Vitex negundo

Kala Banna, Nirgundi

S

Whole year

Major

12

Ziziphus nummularia

Jand Beri

S

Mar-Jun

Major

13

Grewia tenax

Kango

S

Feb-Aug

Major

14

Zanthoxylum armatum

Timber

S

Mar-Apr

Minor

15

Lantana indica

Lantana

S

Jul-Sep

Major

16

Rosa brunonii

Tarni, Tandyari

S

Apr-Jun

Major

17

Berberis lyceum

Sumbal

S

Apr-Jun

Minor

18

Rubus ellipticus

Peela Akhra

S

Apr-Jun

Minor

19

Himalrandia tetrasperma

Ghanaloo

S

May-June

Minor

20

Oxalis corniculata

Khatmit, Jandoro

H

Mar-Oct

Minor

21

Medicago polymorpha

Maina

H

Mar-May

Minor

22

Melilotus indica

Ran-Methi, Sinji

H

Mar-Aug

Major

23

Withania somnifera

Aksun, Koori Chinothi

H

whole year

Major

24

Asplenium adiantum-nigrum

Fern

H

Jun-Aug

Major

25

Trifolium repens

Shatala

H

Apr-Jul

Major

26

Scandix pecten veneris

Venus comb

H

Apr-Jul

Major

27

Galium aparine

Lahndra

H

Mar-Jul

Minor

28

Brassica campestris

Sarsun

H

Nov-Feb

Major

29

Eruca sativa

Tara mira

H

Feb-Apr

Minor

30

Amaranthus viridis

Ganhar, Cholai

H

Mar-Oct

Minor

31

Plantago major

Isabgool

H

Aug-Sep

Minor

32

Amaranthus spinosus

Surkh Ghanyar

H

May-Sep

Trace

33

Mentha royleana

Jangli Pudina

H

Jul-Oct

Minor

34

Phaseolus vulgaris

Kidney bean

H

May-Oct

Trace

35

Pennisetum glaucum

Bajra

G

Jun-Aug

Major

36

Zea mays

Mak, Makaie

G

Jul-Sep

Minor

37

Triticum aestivum

Kanak, Gundam, Wheat

G

Dec-Apr

Minor

38

Avena sativa

Jai

G

May-Aug

Major

39

Cynodon dactylon

Chhabbar, Khabbal

G

Whole year

Major

40

Dichanthium annulatum

Palwan Ghaas

G

Mar-Nov

Major

41

Sorghum halepense

Baru, Barwa

G

May-Sep

minor

42

Heterpogon contortus

Sarriyala Gaas

G

Jun-Oct

Major

43

Chrysopogon aucheri

Bari Gaas

G

Mar-May

Minor

44

Eleusine indica

Mandhano

G

Jun-Aug

Minor

45

Dioscorea bulbifera (bulb)

Air potato

C

Jul-Sep

Minor

 

T, tree; H, herb; S, shrub; G, grass; C, climber

 

 

Threats

During the field survey 250 persons from local communities were interviewed through questionnaire about the sighting, hunting, threats, likeness and conservation of kalij pheasant. The respondents included 197 males and 53 females. They were further divided into four age groups, 15-30 years (46%, n=115), 31-45 years (27.6%, n=69), 46-60 years (18.8%, n=47), more than 61 years (7.6%, n=19). The respondent’s education information was categorized as under matric (18%, n=45), matric (28.4%, n=71), graduation (32.4%, n=81) and master (21.2%, n=53) degree qualification. Majority of respondents were students (46%, n=115), followed by other professions (teachers, tailors, Governmentt servants etc.) (28.4%, n=71), farmers (14.4%, n=36) and shop keepers (11.2%, n=28) (Table II). In response to a question about the observation of kalij pheasant, 78.8% (n=197) respondents had seen the species while 21.2% (n=53) did not. The majority (64.8%, n=162) of respondents have seen the feathers, fecal matter, and footprint of kalij pheasant while (35.2%, n=88) have not seen. The highest (62.4%, n=156) sighting of kalij pheasant was recorded from the forest, followed by cultivated land (20.4%, n=51), other places (10.4%, n=26) and human settlements (6.8%, n=17) (Fig. 2).

Among all respondents 46% (n=115) had heard the calls, while 56% (n=135) had not heard the calls of kalij pheasant. The majority (72.4%, n=181) of respondents were of the view that the population was decreasing, while (10.8%, n=27) considered that the population was increasing and (16.8%, n=42) replied that the population was stable (Fig. 3). In response to the question about the responsibility of population decrease, many (57.2%) of them answered that local community was responsible followed by forest department (22.8%), wildlife department (16.8%) and others (3.2%), respectively.

 

Table II. Personal biodata of respondents for questionnaire data.

Description

Category

Number

%

Gender

Male

197

78.8

Female

53

21.2

Age

15-30

115

46

31-45

69

27.6

46-60

47

18.8

61 and above

19

7.6

Education

Under matric

45

18

Matric

71

28.4

Graduation

81

32.4

Master

53

21.2

Occupation

Student

115

46

Farmer

36

14.4

Shop keepers

28

11.2

Others

71

28.4

 

 

 

The major threats for declining population were forest fires (41.6%, n=104), followed by hunting (27.2%, n=68), habitat destruction (18.8%, n=47), and natural predators (12.4%, n=31) (Fig. 4). According to respondents, disturbance due to presence of human population affects the kalij pheasant, and as they viewed low (23.6%, n=59), medium (54.8%, n=137), high (12.4%, n=31) and no disturbance (9.2%, n=23). Among the respondents, 22.8% (n=57) hunt the kalij pheasant while 77.2% (n=193) do not hunt. During the study period, 142 hunting cases were recorded for the species in question. The maximum hunting was in the evening (54.23%, n=77) followed by night time (28.87%, n=41) and morning time hunting (16.9%, n=24). In response to a question about the purpose of killing, 96.4% (n=241) stated that it was hunted for food followed by sport hunting (2.8%, n=7) and others (0.8%, n=2). In hunting, maximum 56.8% (n=142) hunters were involved, followed by local community (36.8%, n=92), farmers (3.6%, n=9) and others (2.8%, n=7) (Fig. 5). Various ways were used to hunt the pheasant, such as gun (89.6%, n=224), net, (7.6%, n=19), trap (4.8%, n=12) and by hunting dogs (2.8%, n=7).

 

 

Around 35.6% (n=89) respondents had witnessed egg stealing cases while 64.4% (n=161) reported no stealing from their areas. Furthermore, 26% (n=65) respondents mentioned about capturing of kalij chicks while 74% (n=185) reported the opposite. The most affected anthropogenic activity was deforestation (46.4%, n=116) followed by roads (30.4%, n=76), houses (16.4%, n=41) and others (6.8%, n=17) (Fig. 6). All the respondents showed positive attitude towards conservation of kalij pheasant. The most of respondents (52.4%, n=131) had the opinion that the local community should be responsible for the conservation of kalij pheasant while 30.4% (n=76) gave the responsibility to both the local community and wildlife department and 17.2% (n=43) considered it as a responsibility of the wildlife department only (Fig. 7).

 

 

Hunting index

The hunting index of kalij pheasant was calculated with number of kalij hunted by total number of surveys and it was recorded as 0.855 for the year 2020-2021 (Table III).

 

Table III. Hunting index of Kalij pheasant from Mirpur Division.

Variables

2020-21

Total number of hunting reports

142

Total number of surveys

166

Hunting index

0.855

 

DISCUSSION

The diet plays an important role in the survival of species. Availability of diet depends on the type of habitat which fulfils the requirement of the species. The diet analysis showed that the major diet of kalij pheasant was plants while invertebrates contributed minor role in their diet. Feeding habits may have changed according to food availability, seeds, leaves, fruits, and if they were not available roots were eaten by scratching the ground. The availability of insects reduces the consumption of plant matter and becomes an important part of the diet. The pheasant fulfils their protein requirement from invertebrates which is necessary for their and chick survival (Hill, 1985).

The diet of kalij pheasant recovered from Kumaon region of western Himalayas (Hussain and Sultana, 2013) consisted of Berginea ligulata, Rubus biflorus, Rubus ellipticus, Myrcine africana, Fragaria sp. as major food items. According to pre monsoon season Geranium wallichianum, Thalictrium foliolosum, Boeninghausienia albiflora, Viola sp., invertebrates and grit recorded as minor food items of kalij pheasant, while Geranium wallichianum, Viola sp., and invertebrates as major in post-monsoon season. The plant species consumed vary in the season. Kalij pheasant was also observed during the study directly feeding on seasonal crops (wheat, corn, millet, maize) and vegetables. The invertebrates and grit made a small portion of the diet. The grit component was recorded in adults showing that it helped in the grinding of vegetation in the gizzard for complete digestion of food (Hussain and Sultana, 2013). Lewin and Lewin (1984) also proved the omnivorous behavior of kalij pheasant from the Island of Hawaii and recorded different plants and animals. The studies on direct observation of feeding of ring-necked pheasant have been conducted by Zhengje (1989) and Jianqiang and Yue (1989) recorded 62 plant and animal species from the diet of brown-eared pheasant respectively. Forty-eight plant species were consumed by Sclater’s monal (Lophophorus sclateri) and 43 by blood pheasant (Ithaginis cruentus) from the habitat of Gaoligong China. They suggest in case of food deficiency pheasants change their feeding habit from leaves to roots and move to lower elevations from snowy areas (Xu et al., 2016). The basic information about the diet of a species is necessary for the conservation of species and its habitat.

Pheasants are facing many threats due to which their population is declining. Kalij pheasant is included as a protected species under the Wildlife Protection Act AJ and K (2015). Respondents included students, teachers, farmers, shopkeepers, labourers. They come from villages early in the morning and return late in the evening, using the same trails in the forest, hence the most of respondents directly sight the kalij pheasant, feathers, and faecal matter. It was the opinion of many respondents that the population of kalij pheasant was declining day by day due to habitat destruction, hunting, and forest fire. Hunting is common in many study sites (Kaul et al., 2004). Most of the hunting and poaching was recorded during September to March in the evening time when they come to their roosting sites. Hunters target the location based on the droppings of faecal matter under the trees. Some cases also reported the removal of complete groups (5) from their roosting place at Durjan, District Mirpur. Hunters and the local community were involved in hunting because of being present in the field. Poaching was also reported from many sites.

Kalij are captured with nets and traps during movement in the field. Incidents of killing by stone have been recorded from the study area Kathar, district Mirpur. Pheasants are hefty bodied and ground inhabiting due to which they take little flight hence they are easily killed by catapult as well. Male pheasants are susceptible to hunting due to the bright colour of feathers that are utilized by local communities as ornamental or in hats (Ramesh et al., 1999). Trapping, picking of eggs, and chicks has also been reported from the study area. Picking of eggs and trapping is one of the major factors causing the low abundance of the pheasant (Hussain et al., 2001; McGowan, 2002; DNPWC and DFSC, 2018).

Habitat destruction was also recorded as an important factor in the decline of pheasants (Gaston et al., 1981; Clark et al., 2013; Inskipp et al., 2016). The kalij population was declining from Kumaon in the Himalayas due to the destruction of oak forest and poaching (Hussain et al., 1997; Khan, 1997). Due to lack of basic facilities, local communities living in the forest mostly depend on forest resources. They get wood for fuel, build houses and vegetation for livestock and other purposes. The forest fire was also recorded a serious threat from different study sites especially during the breeding season, resulting in loss of eggs, chicks, nests, and even adults (Kimothi and Jadhav, 1998; Inskipp et al., 2016). Destruction of nesting was recorded from Burjan, Kaladab and Bandli Khuiratta. Usually, local communities burn the ground vegetation to increase fodder production for their livestock and the fire cannot be controlled later, spreads to other areas, and causes complete removal of many species. It was noted from many sites in the Mirpur division. All the respondents liked kalij pheasant and had a positive attitude towards conservation. The majority of respondents gave the responsibility for conservation to respective local communities.

Threats are an imminent danger for the survival of pheasants. Therefore, it is necessary to formulate a well-planned management strategy to protect and conserve the species. Local communities can play important role in this matter. It was observed during the field visit that people were unaware of the ecological importance of wildlife, particularly kalij pheasant. Awareness programs among the local communities regarding the conservation of kalij pheasant can play an important role. The involvement of NGOs, wildlife researchers, students, and wildlife department is essential.

According to the AJ and K Wildlife Act (2015), kalij pheasant is protected and placed in Schedule III, which states that animals could not be hunted, killed, or captured. They were mostly hunted and trapped for their delicious meat (Kaul et al., 2004; Inskipp et al., 2016). Local communities should be made aware that legal action could be taken against those who are involved in illegal hunting, stealing of eggs and chicks. Punishment should be given to, whosoever violates the Wildlife Act. Deforestation, construction of houses, and roads in forest areas should be planned to minimize the loss of natural resources and wildlife. As kalij pheasant occurs in patchy distribution hence protection of particular habitat is vital for their survival. Deforestation and forest fires which cause a great loss to wildlife species should be controlled.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Following recommendations may be considered for the conservation of kalij pheasant in the study area.

  1. The different large and linked habitat patches in the study area will be suitable for kalij and other wildlife species if they are declared as protected areas on priority basis.
  2. A systematic survey should be organized for the presence of wildlife species to increase the nature reserve for conservation and management.
  3. It’s necessary to assess the habitat quality and fragmentation because the actual distribution of wildlife species will be determined by the suitability of environmental habitats.
  4. Awareness education through conservation programs, meetings, seminars, and conferences should be organized in local communities.
  5. Positive attitude and active participation of communities should be increased for biodiversity conservation.
  6. Wildlife laws should be implemented in earnest and punishment should be awarded on violation of any offence.
  7. Wildlife staff should be trained, well equipped, and monitored through higher authorities.
  8. Patrolling by wildlife officials especially in the breeding and winter season can control the stealing of eggs, capturing of chicks, and illegal hunting.
  9. Forest fires should be controlled especially in the breeding season.
  10. Long-term monitoring programs should be started for the conservation of kalij pheasant.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The authors are grateful to IDEA WILD who provided field equipment. Dr. Muhammad Mudassar Shahzad and Rida Ahmed improved the manuscript.

Statement of conflict of interest

The authors have declared no conflict of interest.

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