The species was first described in 1919 from birds collected in Wuyuan, a town in south east China. A second population was discovered in Simao in 1956 but no further records were reported until 1988 when the species reappeared in the commercial bird trade in Europe. It is now restricted to a small area around Wuyuan where habitat change and the illegal bird trade continue to threaten its survival.
In response to the growing concern about the species’ survival, regional zoo breeding programmes were established around the world. In 2012, these breeding programmes united and a Global Species Management Plan (GSMP) for the blue-crowned laughingthrush was approved, allowing the worldwide zoo population to be managed as a single unit. This marked an important moment for ex-situ bird conservation, as this became the first GSMP for any bird species. The aim of the GSMP is to manage this critically endangered species at a global level by combining regional zoo populations with collective knowledge and resources.
In 2013, we hosted the first GSMP meeting, bringing together partners and stakeholders concerned for the future of the species and providing an opportunity to discuss national and international breeding and transfer recommendations, medical issues and recommendations for improving husbandry protocols.
After seven years of searching, the Wuyuan population was rediscovered in 2002 by personnel from the Beijing Institute of Zoology. The field research involves searching for new sites whilst continuing to monitor existing sites, of which there are currently 11. Continual monitoring allows changes in populations to be recorded. In 2015, 321 individuals were counted during the breeding season – the highest number recorded since census work began.
Photo Credit – Xie Xiao-Fang.