Cracids are the most endangered family of terrestrial birds in the Neotropics, with a third of species threatened with extinction according to BirdLife on behalf of the IUCN Red List criteria. Of these, three are Critically Endangered with the Trinidad Piping-guan believed to have the smallest population and range size of all extant cracids. In Trinidad, the species is known locally as Pawi, a name of Amerindian origin and widely used across the region, in slightly different forms, to refer to members of the Cracid family. The term is probably of onomatopoeic origin, in reference to the calls of some members of the family.
The Pawi is extirpated from much of its original range on the island, having once been common over most habitats except on the western side. Today, it remains in just a small number of locations, mainly in the Northern Range mountains, in what is the easternmost extent of the South American Andes. Although it is very likely that small populations still exist further south in the Trinity Hills, there are no recent confirmed reports. However, the information was considered sufficient to designate the Important Bird Area of Victoria-Mayaro Forest Reserve in the south in an attempt to further conservation efforts in the area. The Northern Range IBA comprises lands over 500 m in catchment areas at the eastern end of the mountains where the Pawi is known to exist.
Important Bird Areas (IBAs)
IBAs represent priority areas for biodiversity conservation and are designated on the basis of bird species meeting certain criteria. For further information on IBAs see the chapter on Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean IBA directory here and in the Americas IBA directory here.
The Pawi has long been appreciated as a food source, Léotaud, in his 1866 treatise on Trinidadian birds writes that “the paoui is highly prized for the table and with good reason”. Frank Chapman, one of the most active North American ornithologists at the beginning of the 20th Century, also noted that “the flesh of this species is deservedly esteemed”, but went on to warn that “through the persecution of hunters it is rapidly becoming a rare bird”. It may be that hunting today, is the species’ greatest threat.
In order to evaluate current threats to the species and possible actions to overcome them, a workshop was convened by the Pawi Study Group in July 2010 at the Caroni Swamp visitor’s centre in Trinidad. Many different stakeholders interested in the conservation of the Pawi attended, including the Trinidad and Tobago Forestry Division, Environmental Management Agency, Guardian Life Wildlife Trust, Emperor Valley Zoo, Hunting Associations and local NGOs, among others. The workshop was facilitated by the Caribbean Natural Resources Institute and supported by the World Pheasant Association and BirdLife International. The workshop began by sharing research findings on the Pawi, including aspects such as its present distribution, ecology and threats. The participants then went on to define a vision for the Pawi’s conservation plan, as well as separate goals, objectives and activities, before pulling these together into concrete ideas for projects to address the threats identified.
The action plan workshop gets underway with words from Howard Nelson and Carol James
One of the key conclusions of the two-day workshop was the need to form a steering committee or more formal organization to coordinate the implementation of the Pawi Conservation Strategy, responsible for coordinating between all the different stakeholders present at the meeting.
Other conclusions were the need for a country-wide survey to establish the range and population of the Pawi, find ways to involve in a more beneficial way local communities in the Pawi’s conservation and the establishment of a captive breeding program on the island.
Howard Nelson, chair of the Pawi study group adds “it was probably the first time that all the key stakeholders were brought together to discuss conservation of the Pawi. While over the past decade several groups had been developing nascent efforts to help the species, the workshop has provided us with a vehicle to develop a consensus on the priority actions, and build relationships between the stakeholders that will be useful in securing the future of the species”.
Key issues, already under the focus of past and present projects include the Pawi’s status and ecology in Grand Riviere, a children’s book to raise awareness throughout the island (pictured above), educational campaigns and surveys of community perspectives on the environment in key areas for the Pawi.
For Phil McGowan, director of the World Pheasant Association, “this is the perfect time to bring all these people, opportunities and knowledge together in one guiding document that sets out the road to recovery”. The strategy’s vision, defined at the workshop itself, sums up the desired outcome of this recovery, “the Pawi will once again flourish in sustainable populations throughout its original range and become a source of pride to the people of Trinidad and Tobago”.
Trinidad Piping-guan at Grand Riviere.Photo: Alfredo Colon/www.rarebirdsyearbook.com