New population of one of the world's rarest pheasants discovered in Malaysian Borneo

Amy Fitzmaurice and Oliver Wearn; 20152015-01-22

Posted by: Amy Fitzmaurice

The Bulwer’s Pheasant is a rare and endemic bird species of Borneo, which until now was only identified at two locations in Malaysian Borneo: Maliau Basin Conservation Area and Tawau Hills (Philips and Philips, 2011 and Birdlife International, 2013). However, camera trapping in and around the Kalabkan Forest Reserve has now discovered a third population. Camera trapping surveys were carried out between 2011 and 2014, as part of the Stability of Altered Forest Ecosystem Project (SAFE Project).

Camera trapping has snapped the rare species on four occasions in the SAFE Project area (once in 2011 and 2012 and twice more in 2014), over two separate experimental blocks of forest separated by 6km. The species was also caught on camera in 2013 during camera trap surveys in the nearby Brantain-Tatulit Virgin Jungle Reserve, which is a fully protected patch of old-growth forest. Oliver Wearn, a PhD researcher from Imperial College London who leads the camera trapping surveys, said “This species has still never been seen by anyone working at the SAFE Project site, despite many years of man hours in the forest. The photos came as a complete surprise once I realised what I was looking at. It underlines just how useful camera trapping can be as a scientific tool.”

Randomised camera trapping has shown that a species stated to prefer primary forests and that is vulnerable to disturbance, occurs in forested areas that have been twice logged since the 1970s and is surrounding by logging activities. This information is valuable for conserving an endemic species of Borneo that is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN RedList.

These latest records from the Kalabakan Forest Reserve are from a highly degraded selectively logged area of forest, which extends the known habitat preferences for this species. Amy Fitzmaurice, a Master’s student at Imperial College London who discovered the most recent images, said “Our understanding of the impacts of logging on species is limited and using camera trapping to study rare and elusive species is vital for our understanding of this complex issue in order to conserve biodiversity.”