Cheer Pheasant Catreus wallichi occurs in the western Himalayas from north Pakistan, through Kashmir into Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, India, and east to central Nepal. It is currently classified as Vulnerable under criterion C2a(i) of the IUCN Red List based on its small, naturally fragmented population (residing in small patches of successional grassland) and continuing population decline caused by human population pressure, grazing pressure from livestock, hunting and changing patterns of land-use.
It is a well-studied species but due to the unique topography of Cheer habitats, as well as lack of suitable field methods and statistical techniques, all the earlier population studies have either grossly overestimated or underestimated Cheer numbers. Therefore, all the earlier reported Cheer densities are at best only indicative and must be treated as such (Rajiv Kalsi in litt. 2010).
Many subpopulations are thought to number fewer than 10 individuals, living in small pockets of suitable habitat. In Pakistan, it may now only persist in the Jhelum Valley. In India, it has declined, with most known populations now confined to Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. The area in and around Majathal Wildlife Sanctuary appears to be important with densities of 24 pairs/km2 recorded during 1983 and recent reports confirming the notion that a sizeable population remains (Subedi 2003). The population in the Kai-i-nag area of Kashmir is also thought to be sizeable (R. Kaul in litt. 2007). In Nepal, it appears to be localised, occurring from the Baitadi district in the west, east to the Kali Gandaki River. The most important area in the country is Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve (C. Inskipp and H. S. Baral in litt. 2012). Surveys conducted here in 1981 and 2003 revealed a slight decline, with a corrected population estimate of 127-212 birds in the valley, but this trend was not statistically significant (Subedi 2003). Areas surrounding Dhorpatan have also been found to support populations at similar densities of 5-10 birds/km2 with corrected population estimates of 56-71 individuals in the Bobang area, 19-22 individuals in Adlikari area and 61-127 individuals in the Muri area, all just outside the reserve (Singh et al. 2006). Small populations were identified at Trikuta and within Rara National Park in 2005 and local reports during that survey indicated that the species occurs more widely within Mugu and Jumla districts (Bhudathapa 2006). Surveys in Rara National Park in 2006 and 2008 indicate that the population there is no longer viable, while anecdotal evidence from local shepherds suggests that the species is in decline (Singh 2009) and visiting birdwatchers are finding it more difficult to locate the species (C. Inskipp in litt. 2009). Apparent declines at Ghansa suggest it may have declined overall in Nepal, but the level of threat remains low in parts of its range (Acharya and Thapa 2003); the total Nepalese population is thought likely to number fewer than 1,500 individuals (C. Inskipp and H. S. Baral in litt. 2012).
The total world population was previously estimated to number 4,000-6,000 individuals, roughly equivalent to 2,700-4,000 mature individuals (R. Kaul in litt. 2007), in a total area of 27,500 km2. M.S. Bisht (pers. comm. 2010) states that it could be more, as this species is difficult to estimate because of its shy habits and occurrence in many inaccessible areas, no intensive study being made so far along whole distributional limits, and all previous reports being based either on a single sighting or survey of small areas for a few days only. However, recent surveys by R. Kalsi (pers. comm. 2010) of the previously surveyed sites in Himachal Pradesh showed that Cheer Pheasant populations have declined considerably, and they have disappeared altogether from some sites. There has been considerable decline in Chail and Majathal WLSs (both in Himachal), which were considered strongholds of the species and it is feared that the same condition prevails in Uttarakhand. Therefore, present population could be 3,000–4,000 individuals in the wild (R. Kalsi pers. comm. 2010), implying <2,500 mature individuals. If these estimates are confirmed, the Cheer Pheasant would qualify as Endangered under criterion C2a(i) of the IUCN Red List, based on a population of <2,500 mature individuals, if all subpopulations were estimated to number ≤250 mature individuals and a continuing population decline could be inferred due to hunting and disturbance within its specialised habitat.
Comments on the total population size, size of the largest subpopulation and likely population trends of this species, would be welcomed.
Acharya, B. and Thapa, S. (2003) Preliminary survey of Cheer Pheasant (Catreus wallichi) in lower Kaligandaki valley, Mustang.
Singh, P. B., Paudel, L. and Sharma, S. (2006) Survey of cheer pheasant Catreus wallichi in and around Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve, Western Nepal.
Subedi, P. (2003) Status and distribution of Cheer Pheasant (Catreus wallichi) in Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve, Nepal.
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