BirdLife Press Release: Gurney's Pitta rediscovered in Myanmar

Subject: BirdLife Press Release: Gurney's Pitta rediscovered in Myanmar
From: Hugo Phillipps <>
Date: Wed, 04 Jun 2003 09:00:06 +1000
Gurney's Pitta rediscovered in Myanmar

Cambridge, UK, 3rd June 2003 -- 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.[1,2]

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.[3] 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.[4]

Gurney's Pitta is teetering on the brink of extinction and classified as
Critically Endangered.[5] 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.[6]

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

1.  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.

2.  to continue to work closely with the authorities to protect the small but
vital population of Gurney's Pittas in southern Thailand


1) BirdLife International is a global alliance of conservation
organisations working in more than 100 countries who, together, are the
leading authority on the status of birds, their habitats and the issues and
problems affecting bird life.

2) Photographs and video-footage of Gurney's Pitta are available for press
and media use.  Photographs are available online at:

3) 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.

4) 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:

[5] The World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List criteria for species of
conservation concern are: Critically Endangered (facing an extremely high
risk of extinction in the wild in the immediate future), Endangered (facing
a very high risk of extinction in the wild in the near future), Vulnerable
(facing a high risk of extinction in the wild in the medium-term),
Conservation Dependent (the focus of a conservation programme which, if
stopped, would result in the species qualifying for one of the threatened
categories), and Near Threatened (not CD but close to qualifying for

[6] 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.

Hugo Phillipps
Communications Coordinator
Birds Australia
415 Riversdale Road
Hawthorn East 3123, Australia
Tel: (03) 9882 2622, fax: (03) 9882 2677
Email: <>
Website: <>

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