Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Taiwan dam project threatens Fairy Pitta stronghold

Fairy Pitta, one of Asia’s most charismatic and eye-catching birds, may be in trouble if the construction of a major dam in Taiwan is given the go-ahead. The project would threaten 422 ha of forest with flooding, affecting a significant proportion of the region’s Fairy Pitta breeding habitat, and in an area that supports some the greatest breeding density currently known.

Taiwan’s Yunlin County has proposed the Hushan Dam in an Important Bird Area (IBA) known as the Huban-Hushan. The area supports Fairy Pitta and a further five species only found in Taiwan, and the dam is the latest in a line of putative threats facing the region’s birds, according to BirdLife International.

The area is of international importance for many threatened bird species including Fairy Pitta, but also Swinhoe’s Pheasant, Taiwan Partridge and Maroon Oriole. Deforestation across much of the pitta’s range in China and Japan has resulted in declines and serious concern for its prospects.

BirdLife Chief Executive Dr Mike Rands commented: “It is a fact that the forests within the Huban-Hushan IBA, where the dam has been planned, support the largest breeding population of Fairy Pitta anywhere in the world ... this makes the protection of this habitat a global issue, about which we express great concern.”

Threats faced by the region in the past have included gravel extraction, a problem successfully campaigned against in 2000 by Birdlife International and other agencies. Currently, the organisation is calling for more appropriate alternatives to the dam proposal.

Dr Peter Schei, chair of BirdLife’s Council, wrote to Taiwanese authorities asking that they “respond positively to this appeal and consider alternatives to the current project in order to avoid the destruction of an area of habitat so critical to a species with such a threatened and fragile future”.

Fairy Pitta is listed as ‘vulnerable’ by BirdLife International and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), with regulations applying under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).