Gurney's Pitta racing towards extinction


Gurney's Pitta is facing extinction, with a recent study showing that extensive forest clearance has destroyed large areas of suitable habitat across its small range.

The research by Fauna & Flora International found that the habitat of Gurney's Pitta in southern Myanmar has shrunk by 80 per cent since 1999 as a result of widespread forest clearance, particularly for commercial oil palm plantations.

Some 80 per cent of the suitable Gurney's Pitta habitat in southern Myanmar has been destroyed since 1999 (Pui Parinya).

The team behind the study visited 142 of the 147 locations in Myanmar where the bird was logged during previous field work between 2003 and 2012 and found it in only 41 of those locations. The other 101 sites had all been stripped of their forest.

Nay Myo Shwe, Tanintharyi Programme Manager for Fauna & Flora International in Myanmar and lead researcher of the new study, said: "It was devastating to see this extent of loss and to realise so many Gurney's Pitta have probably been killed, along with countless other species."

The protection of the remaining lowland forest is now critical to avoid the extinction of Gurney's Pitta, but none of its remaining habitat in Myanmar is under any formal protection. "If this area is not protected, and if legal and illegal logging is allowed to encroach on the remaining habitat, the bird will go extinct – it’s simply inevitable," continued Nay Myo. "Stronger protection is needed, including the classification of Gurney's Pitta as a Critically Endangered species."

Gurney's Pitta is currently listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. This new research strongly supports the case for it to be reclassified as Critically Endangered. Until the late 1990s the Tanintharyi region of southern Myanmar, where the pitta is found, was largely spared from the high rates of forest clearance seen elsewhere in South-East Asia.

However, since 1999, more than 4,000 square kilometres of forest has been handed over to oil palm companies and much of it cleared of natural vegetation. Nay Myo added: "These patches of lowland forest in southern Myanmar are the last global stronghold of this charismatic bird. Establishing community-based conservation measures will help protect the forest not only for Gurney's Pitta but also for future generations of local people."