Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Pheasant-tailed Jacana - more than a typhoon victim.

Pheasant-tailed Jacanas (Hydrophasianus chirurgus) in a water chestnut pond, Kwantien, Tainan.

One of the reserves devastated by Typhoon Morakot was the Guantian Jacana Reserve in Tainan County. The reserve is a protected area for the threatened Pheasant-tailed Jacana Hydrophasianus chirurgus, a dazzling water bird that moves about elegantly on floating vegitation. Jacanas are often called lilly-trotters. The typhoon struck right in the middle of the jacana breeding season. Nests were wiped out and many jacanas seemed to have disappeared. According to the Taipei Times many birds have returned and some renewed nesting attempts are taking place. We heard about the devastation of the Jacana reserve the day after the typhoon. I was at the reserve just a few weeks before and snapped this shot of a pair of jacana. They were feeding in a water chestnut pond about a kilometer away from the reserve.

The jacana reserve does provide nesting for about fifty pairs of jacana. This is obviously very good but in reality it isn't nearly enough. With no available territories available within the reserve the young have to disperse outside the reserve area. But sadly there is no suitable habitat left for them to establish a territory and breed beyond the reserve so they are faced with a perilous nomadic existence with no breeding. It has been shown that jacana and water chestnut farmers can get along if they want to. The govt just doesn't provide any incentive, motivation or requirement that they do so the jacanas always come off second best.

In reality this reserve can't save the species on Taiwan. Much more needs to be done. We can't take a species and relegate it to just 15 ha of habitat and expect it to just make do there. Is 15 ha all the space we can find in a hearts to give this struggling species? Two hundred birds is all that lies between this species on Taiwan and its extinction. All it takes is a botulinum toxin or outbreak of some avian disease and this highly localised species confined to a single population will be expatriated forever.

If I recall the Taiwan High Speed Rail had to fork out just two million NT$ when the line was built over the species stronghold at Hulupi (Tainan). Two million NT$ can't even buy a house. Yet this pittance is the kind of price we're putting on the heads of this once abundant species that is now down to about just two hundred members on Taiwan. This sadly is what conservation on Taiwan is all about. A little reserve here, a little reserve there and we humans take the rest...

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