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Delightful Discovery

Gurney`s Pitta rediscovered in Myanmar…

BirdLife International today announced the rediscovery after 89 years of Gurney`s Pitta, one of the rarest and most beautiful birds in the world, in southern Myanmar. The discovery was made by a team of conservationists from the Bird Enthusiasts and Nature Conservation Association (BENCA), the Department of Forests Kawthaung District, Tanintharyi Division, and BirdLife International following a month-long survey of lowland forest in southern Tanintharyi Division (Tenasserim), Myanmar. The project team comprised Dr Htin Hla (BENCA), Sein Myo Aung (BENCA), Saw Moses (BENCA), U Saw Nyunt Tin (Dept. of Forests, Kawthaung District) and Jonathan C. Eames (BirdLife International in Indochina). The project was funded by a Rufford Small Grant (for Nature conservation), in association with the Whitley Laing Foundation, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (BirdLife Partner in the United Kingdom) and BirdLife International through the Asia Bird Fund. The project team gratefully acknowledges the support of the Ministry of Travels and Tours, Lt. Col. Kyaw Phyo, Chairman of the District Peace and Development Council, Kawthaung District, the Department of Forests, Kawthaung District, and the Yuzana Company whose managers and staff extended every assistance to the team in its work. The team found pittas at four lowland forest sites, with a maximum of 10?12 pairs at one of these, all sites were close to historical collecting localities. The last confirmed record of Gurney`s Pitta from Myanmar was in 1914.Gurney`s Pitta, scientific name Pitta gurneyi, is a brilliantly coloured secretive bird of the forest floor and is only known from peninsular Thailand and adjacent southern Tenasserin, Myanmar. It has a remarkable history. It was discovered in 1875, fairly widely collected and reported in the 1910s and 1920s, but (from the scientific literature) last seen in 1936 until its rediscovery in 1986 in southern Thailand, where around 12 pairs are now known to exist. In early 1986, therefore, it had appeared to be eligible for listing as Extinct under the CITES guideline criterion of not having been seen in the wild for 50 years, but a previously undocumented 1952 specimen was then discovered, and in any case captive birds had been reported in Britain up to 1975. Full details of the historical status of Gurney`s Pitta can be found in: BirdLife International (2001) Threatened Birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book. Cambridge, UK: BirdLife International, or downloaded from: http://www.rdb.or.id/detailbird.php?id=240Gurney`s Pitta is teetering on the brink of extinction and classified as Critically Endangered. Prior to the latest discovery only around 30 birds were known in a small area of southern Thailand, where conservationists from two BirdLife International Partner organisations ? the Bird Conservation Society of Thailand and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds ? are working closely with the Thai authorities to protect the dwindling population.BirdLife`s work at Khao Nor Chuchi in southern Thailand began more than 10 years ago, supported by several donors, including the British Overseas Administration and Children`s Tropical Forests. From 1995 to 1999, the project was implemented by the Center for Conservation Biology of Mahidol University, in collaboration with the Royal Forest Department, funded by the Danish Ministry of Environment and Energy (DANCED) and managed by the Danish Ornithological Society, the BirdLife Partner in Denmark. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the BirdLife Partner in the UK, and the Bird Conservation Society of Thailand, the BirdLife Partner in Thailand, are currently working at the site.Dr Michael Rands, Director and Chief Executive of BirdLife International commented The rediscovery of Gurney`s Pitta in Myanmar is tremendously exciting and potentially important, but we must not be complacent. There was always hope that another population existed in Myanmar, but it is crucial that the fulfilment of that hope doesn`t in any way weaken or compromise the determination to save the species at the site in Thailand.The surviving Gurney`s Pittas in Myanmar are increasingly threatened by the rapid clearance of their forest habitat to make way for oil palm plantations and unless action is taken soon, could soon disappear. Jonathan Eames of BirdLife International in Indochina, who took part in the survey, said Throughout our work we could hear the constant whine of chainsaws, and everywhere we saw patches of recently burned forest. Flat, lowland forest is being rapidly cleared from the region, particularly along the route of the trans-Tennasserim highway. The extent and scale of the forest clearances are clearly visible from satellite images and pose a significant threat to the continued survival of this spectacular species.BirdLife International believes that the next priorities in the battle to save Gurney`s Pitta from extinction are firstly to identify the largest remaining areas of suitable lowland forest habitat in Myanmar urgently and work with the relevant authorities to develop an appropriate conservation strategy for them and to continue to work closely with the authorities to protect the small but vital population of Gurney`s Pittas in southern Thailand For further information, please contact Richard Thomas at BirdLife International in Cambridge, UK, tel. +44 (0)1223 279813; 07779 018 332 (mobile); richard.thomas@birdlife.org.uk or Jonathan Eames who will be available for telephone interviews during Vietnam office hours (GMT + 7 hrs). Tel. +84 (091) 323 9649 (mobile)

4th July 2014