Gu Bojian, a keen birdwatcher, was a postgraduate student at Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Gardens, Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2013. In November that year, his supervisor assigned him to research rainforest growth in the Red River valley bordering Shuangbai County, the Chuxiong Yi Autonomous Prefecture, and Xinping Yi and Dai Autonomous County, Yuxi, in Yunnan Province.
He told the reporter that when he arrived in the field, villagers mentioned they had spotted a green peafowl in the neighborhood and showed him some feathers. Gu was curious.
“The green peafowl is as precious as a giant panda, and it was thought to be already extinct in China,” Gu said.
As the biggest member of the pheasant family, the green peafowl is listed as endangered on the international IUCN Red List and categorized in Appendix II to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Appendix II lists species that are not necessarily now threatened with extinction but that may become so unless trade is closely controlled.
The green peafowl is similar to the Indian peafowl. The adult male has brilliant glossy green and black plumage with a long train which can be over one meter long. There is a long upright blue-black crest on its head. The adult female is similar with shorter legs and duller colors.
Wang Jian, an associate professor at the Life Science and Technology School at Honghe University, in Mengzi, Yunnan, told NewsChina that the green peafowl is distributed in Southeast Asia with dwindling numbers. In China, the species is now confined to a limited area in Yunnan. In May 2017, Yunnan Provincial Environmental Protection Department released the Yunnan Province Biological Species Red List (2017), which categorized the green peafowl as critically endangered.
In the past, the species was also distributed in China in Hubei, Hunan, and Guangdong provinces, and the regions of Guangxi and Tibet. By the 1990s, there were around 800 to 1,000 birds in Yunnan, the Xinhua News Agency reported in May 2018.
Kong Dejun, an associate professor at the Life Science and Technology Department at Kunming University told Xinhua that they had recorded 183 to 240 green peafowl. “Considering uninvestigated regions where the species might appear, we estimate that the total population of green peafowl is less than 500. At the same time, the number of individuals in one flock has declined from 8 to 15 birds down to 3 to 5,” Kong said. Major threats for the species include habitat loss, hunting, poisoning and dam building.
In 2013, Gu Bojian spent 20 days doing field research but failed to spot any green peafowl. At the same time, he learned that a planned hydropower station in the lower reaches of the Red River would ruin one of China’s last unspoiled tropical forests, home to many tropical plants and animals, including the green peafowl.
Construction on Jiasajiang Level 1 Power Station called for the river flow to be blocked in November 2017 with the aim of generating power by August 2020. The project’s launch ceremony was held on March 29, 2016. It was listed as a key project by the Yunnan provincial government in 2015. According to the plan, the dam would be 175 meters high and the installed power generation capacity would be 270,000 kilowatts.
That section of the river valley is the main breeding ground for the green peafowl. Every March and April, during the mating season, they can be spotted frequently. In March 2017, Gu visited the Red River and heard the call of the peafowl. “It was late afternoon when I heard the green peafowl from the deep valley. It was so exciting when the echoing sound of the peafowl was so clear amid the background noise of crickets and insects,” Gu told NewsChina.
In order to protect the green peafowl’s habitat, Gu Bojian sought help from Xi Zhinong, founder of Wild China Film and a well-known wildlife photographer and conservationist.
On March 15, 2017, Xi and his team went to Xinping to visit the dam construction site. The trip allowed him to spot and film around eight green peafowls, including a peafowl drinking water by the riverside. Wild China Film released an online article headlined “Who Kills the Green Peafowl? China’s Last Complete Resort for the Green Peafowl is Disappearing,” which gained public and media attention. In April 2018, Gu Bojian, for the first time, spotted a green peafowl in the forests in the area.
On June 29, Yunnan government released an official document on the “Yunnan Provincial Ecological Preservation Redline,” which listed habitat regions for 26 endangered species, including the green peafowl, to ensure the protection of such areas. Most of the area earmarked for flooding by the reservoir of Jiasajiang dam was within protected areas.