By Roger Wilkinson, Simon Dowell and Dai Bo
First Published in The Avicultural Magazine Vol. 111 No. 4
Copyright © 2005 Avicultural Society, Published with Permission

Chester Zoo works in partnership with a number of scientific and conservation organisations in China and works collaboratively with the Sichuan Forestry Department on projects that include or focus on threatened birds. This is a major component of Chester Zoo's larger China Conservation Programme which also includes work with the Yellow-throated Laughingthrushes Garrulax galbanus in Wyuan and Simao (Wilkinson et al. 2004), technical exchanges with Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Base, Chengdu Zoo and Beijing Zoo and support for scientists associated with Sichuan University.

Southern Sichuan Biodiversity Conservation

The current broadleaf forest conservation programme is a partnership between the North of England Zoological Society - Chester Zoo, the Sichuan Forestry Department (SFD) and the Liverpool John Moores University (JMU). This evolved from a project initiated by Dr Simon Dowell of JMU and Dia Bo of SFD that focused on the endangered endemic Sichuan Partridge Arborophilus rufipectus. Dr Dowell was then chair of the IUCN/BirdLife InternationallWP A Partridge, Quail and Francolin Specialist Group and the Sichuan Partridge project was initially supported by the World Pheasant Association (WPA). The present project is supported by the North of England Zoological Society with additional funding support from Mr James Goodhart.

The Chinese subtropical forests endemic bird area (EBA) that includes the range of the Sichuan Partridge is also home to five restricted range endemic passerines. These are the Omei Shan Liocichla Liocichla omeiensis, Red-winged Laughingthrush Garrulax formosusG. formosus, Gold-fronted Fulvetta Alcippe variegaticeps, Silver Oriole Oriolus mellianus and Emei Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus emeiensis. The Omei Shan Liocichla, Gold-fronted Fulvetta and Silver Oriole are all listed as Vulnerable (BirdLife International, 2000). The Red-winged Laughingthrush was previously listed as Near-threatened (IUCN, 1996) but is now considered to be of least concern. The Omei Shan Liocichla and Red-winged Laughingthrush have been held in a number of European zoos and are included in the EAZA Passerine TAG Regional Collection Plan. Both of these attractive passerines have been held at Chester Zoo and together with the Red Panda Ailurus fulgens offer bridges to link these ambassadors in our zoo collection with field conservation and research.

Chester Zoo has been supporting biodiversity conservation in southern Sichuan since 2001. Roger Wilkinson and Simon Dowell made visits in early August 2002, May 2004 and in May 2005, accompanied by Dai Bo who manages the programme in Sichuan (Dowell & Wilkinson, 2004, 2005). These visits included formal and informal management meetings with forestry staff at all levels and for all reserves, trekking with staff in these reserves and participating in faunal surveys. Two reserves which we have particularly focused on are the Laojunshan Nature Reserve and the Mamize Forest Reserve. As a direct result of the visit to the southern Sichuan sites in 2004 we have extended this support to also include the newly protected Heizhugou Nature Reserve.

Laojunshan Nature Reserve, Pingshan County, Sichuan

This is an area of broad leaf hill forest that includes a temple site frequently visited by pilgrims. Both the Omei Shan Liocichla and Red-winged Laughingthrush are frequently encountered in the reserve which is also an important area for the Sichuan Partridge. The density of Sichuan Partridges in Laojunshan Reserve, which was previously estimated at ea. three pairs for every 2sq km (approx. 3/4 Sq. mile) of suitable habitat, is as high there as anywhere else within its limited range.

Chester Zoo's financial support has allowed training for all reserve staff in basic biodiversity management including animal and plant identification. The Director has received training in land use management and other senior staff members have been trained in GIS and ranger skills. This has been hand in hand with the provision of essential infrastructure including office furniture and a computer for the reserve office, two motorcycles to facilitate the rangers' access to remote areas of the reserve, waterproof clothing, cameras and binoculars for field staff and most recently the complete refurbishment of a former forestry farm building as a field station. This field station known as the Xintianzui Conservation Centre now provides offices and accommodation for field staff.

This support has enabled this former local nature reserve to be upgraded to a provincial level reserve and as a direct result of this project the reserve will be extended to include surviving tracts offorest that will double its size to over 70sq km (27sq miles). The Director of the reserve has recently prepared a management plan which will be used in an application to further upgrade the reserve to national status. If successful this may open up funding sources from central government previously unavailable to this reserve.

Birds observed by us at Laojunshan included Crimson-breasted Woodpecker Dendrocopus cathpharius, White-throated Laughingthrush Garrulax albogularisG. albogularis, Red-tailed Minla Minla ignotincta, Golden-breasted Fulvetta Alcippe chrysotisA. chrysotis and Black-headed Sibia Heterophasia capistrata. The 'Spectacled Warblers' Seicercus spp. have been recently the subjects of taxonomic revision and it remains to be confirmed which of this complex occur in the reserve. During our visit in 2005 we found from counts of calling birds that both the area occupied by and the density the Sichuan Partridge had increased since our earlier visits and believe this to be a direct result of improved management and protection in the reserve. The forest also has good numbers of the endemic Dove Tree Davidia involucrata which can be enjoyed in flower in May.

Recently this reserve has received visits by local and adventurous foreign birders. Anyone considering a visit is advised to first contact one of the authors, as arrangements for access must be made through Dai Bo at the Sichuan Forestry Department, who can facilitate such visits.

Mamize Nature Reserve, Leibo County, Sichuan

This diverse and extensive reserve covering over 380sq km (145sq miles) and ranging in altitude from 1,300m-3,800m (approx. 4,265ft-12,500ft) includes a wide range of habitats and species. Broadleaf forests at lower elevations give way to conifer forests that in turn are replaced by bamboo and rhododendron thickets with juniper scrub and alpine meadows at higher altitudes.

Chester Zoo funding for Mamize has supported staff training and infrastructure improvements similar to those outlined above for Laojunshan. This year we agreed additional community support through the purchase of two thoroughbred bulls to help improve local cattle. These bulls will be owned by the nature reserve and used as stud bulls in return for the cattle owners' agreement not to graze their stock inside the nature reserve. The local people in the area belong to the colourful Yi minority. Although they are relatively poor, their hospitality impressed us on each of our visits, when we were most warmly welcomed with local food, locally brewed beers and spirit and, in the evenings, traditional singing and dancing.

Faunal and floral surveys have revealed the reserve to not only be diverse in terms of its birds but also to contain 51 vertebrates and 18 flowering plants listed as protected by the Chinese Government. These include the Giant Panda Ailuropoda melanoleuca, Red Panda and Takin Budorcus taxicolor. This has already resulted in the reserve being upgraded from local to provincial status. A management plan has been completed and we are confident that the reserve will be upgraded to national level with significant funding becoming available on account of it holding Giant Pandas.

On our first visit in 2002 we found Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax, Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula and Upland Pipit Anthus sylvanus on the upper alpine slopes. Farther down the mountains we heard Lady Amherst's Pheasant and amongst many other birds saw both Chinese Babax Babax lanceolatus and the Black-faced Laughingthrush Garrulax affinusG. affinus. Around our base camp in Gudui township commonly seen birds included Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea, Black-billed Magpie Pica pica, Common Rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus and Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus.

The weather was generally good for our visit in May 2004 although on one night in the reserve there was rain with snow on the highest ridges and mountains. Over 60 bird species were seen including two fine male Lady Amherst's Pheasants Chrysolophus amherstiae, White-bellied Redstart Hodgsonius phaenicuroides, Chestnut-headed Tesia Tesia castaneocoronata (then a new record for the reserve), Grey-hooded Parrotbill Paradoxornis zappeyi, Dark-breasted Rosefinch Carpodacus nipalensisC. nipalensis, Spot-winged Rosefinch Carpodacus rhodopeplusC. rhodopeplus and GREYHEADEDBULLFINCHGrey-headed BullfinchBevan's BullfinchGREYHEADEDBULLFINCHGrey-headed BullfinchGrey-headed (Bevan's) Bullfinch Pyrrhula erythaca. A wide variety of flowering plants were seen and photographed including several species of Rhododendron and Azalea.

In 2005 again we frequently heard and had excellent sightings of Lady Amherst's Pheasant and as in previous years saw Spotted Nutcracker Nucifraga carocatactes, Red-winged Laughingthrush and Elliot's Laughingthrush Garrulax elliotiiG. elliotii. For warbler enthusiasts Mamize is heaven with a confusing variety of both leaf and bush warblers. Notable amongst these are the Ashy-throated Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus maculipennisP. maculipennis and Aberrant Bush Warbler Cettia flavolivacea. A super male Rufous-bellied Niltava Niltava sundara proved ample compensation for the inconvenience of collecting leeches on our boots and trousers.

Heizhugou Nature Reserve, E'bian County, Sichuan

Heizhugou Nature Reserve is a recently protected provincial status reserve covering ea. 630sq km (approx. 233sq miles) and bordering Dafending Giant Panda Reserve. This reserve supports populations of a number of key species of endemic passerines including Omei Shan Liocichla, Red-winged Laughingthrush and Emei Leaf Warbler. The Sichuan Partridge has also been recorded in the reserve and it is believed that both Giant and Red Panda may be present but confirmation is required. An area of the reserve has already been developed for ecotourism in association with a spa resort in the main river valley. Following our visit in 2004, Chester Zoo funding to this developing nature reserve has supported training for one of the field officers and the purchase of a number of essential items such as binoculars and field guides for bird identification.

Ertan Reserve, Panzihua area, southern Sichuan

Although not one that we currently support, we visited this reserve in 2004 following reports of the occurrence there of the Sichuan Partridge - some 300km (186 miles) south of its known range. Our visit confirmed our suspicion that it may have been mistaken for the very similar Common Hill Partridge Arborophilus torqueolaA. torqueola, previously unknown in this reserve and with our record representing an extension of its known range. The forest is very different from that in the other reserves we visited further north, with conifers on the middle slopes and most of the broadleaftrees at higher levels. Birds we saw there included White-bellied Woodpecker Dryocopus javensis, Yunnan Nuthatch Sitta yunnanensis, Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush Monticola rufiventris and the Hill Blue Flycatcher Cyornis banyumas.

Further Support

For selected reserves, plans for further support will be facilitated through a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that was agreed in May 2005 between the North of England Zoological Society - Chester Zoo and the Sichuan Forestry Department, Chengdu, for continuing support through to 2007. Objectives for this programme include the development and linking of a network of broadleaf forest reserves that will secure the future of the endemic birds together with that of other fauna and flora. We plan to achieve this through reserve support including stafftraining together with assistance for local communities through developing the sustainable use of forest products and supporting community education.


  • BirdLife International. 2000. Threatened Birds of the World. Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, Barcelona and Cambridge, UK.
  • BirdLife International. 2003. Saving Asia's threatened birds: a guide for government and civil society. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK.
  • Dowell, S. and Wilkinson, R. 2004. Sichuan Forest Conservation Project - Visit Report May 2004. (Unpublished report available from authors).
  • Dowell, S. and Wilkinson, R. 2005. Chester Zoo/Sichuan Forest Department Sichuan Forest Biodiversity Project. Summary Report on visit to the field area, May 2005. (Unpnblished report available from the authors).
  • IUCN. 1996. 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.
  • IUCN. 2001. IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria: Version 3.1. IUCN Species Survival Commission. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.
  • Wilkinson, R, Gardner, L., He Fen-qi and Wirth, R. 2004. A highly threatened bird - Chinese Yellow-throated Laughingthushes in China and in Zoos. International Zoo News Vol.51/8 (No.337):456-469.

Dr Roger Wilkinson is Head of Conservation & Science, North of England Zoological Society, Chester Zoo, Chester CH2 lLH, UK.
Dr Simon Dowel! is Director of Biological & Earth Sciences, Liverpool John Moores University, Byrom Street, Liverpool L3 3AF, UK.
Daio Bo manages the field programme from the Wildlife Conservation Division, Sichuan Forestry Department No. 15, Section 1st of Renminbeilu Street,Chengdu, Sichuan Province, Peoples Republic of China.