16 Jun 2017
The Edwards’s Pheasant, a Vietnam endemic, has been all but wiped out in the wild in the aftermath of the war that once ravaged the land. But a prospering caged community brings hope that it could once again come home to roost
Framed by mounds of white tuft, the ruddy faces of the Red-shanked Douc monkeys peer out from the forest canopies. In the distance, calls of White-cheeked Gibbons echo through the early morning stillness. Underneath, browsing in the shadows of the forest floor are myriad species of deer; among them forages one of the world’s rarest large mammals – the Saola, a bovine that lives in forests so wild and remote, that they were unknown to humans until researchers happened upon the remains of one during an expedition in 1992.
That is a measure of how deep into the wilderness we’ve had to come to get here. We’re in Khe Nuoc Trong, an evergreen-broadleaf forest situated in the Annamese lowlands, Vietnam. It feels like you couldn’t stretch your arms out to yawn without knocking three or four endangered species off their perch. The area is a jewel of biodiversity, but something’s missing. A very important part of the forest’s heritage, in fact. You could spend all morning listening out into the stillness without ever once hearing a guttural “uk-uk-uk-uk-uk” call, which once rang loud and clear through the canopies. A call that belongs, or perhaps once belonged, to the Edwards’s Pheasant Lophura edwardsi (Critically Endangered) – an endemic species that has not been seen in the wild since 2000.
This beautiful bird, whose males are iridescent blue with a flash of red on the face and a white crest, was little known in the wild even prior to its disapperance; it was said to love the dark shadows of ever-wet lowland forests. It was discovered in 1896 and was recorded by French ornithologists during the early 20th Century, but then went unrecorded for almost 60 years. Suddenly, in 1996, it was rediscovered, but almost as soon as it was found, it vanished again. Extensive surveying of its favoured haunts has found no trace of it since.