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Comparing post-release survival and habitat use by captive-bred Cabot’s Tragopan (Tragopan caboti) in an experimental test of soft-release reintroduction strategies

Boye, L and Li, L and Lloyd, H and Canwei, X and Zhang, Y and Zheng, G (2016) Comparing post-release survival and habitat use by captive-bred Cabot’s Tragopan (Tragopan caboti) in an experimental test of soft-release reintroduction strategies. Avian Research, 7. ISSN 2053-7166

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Abstract

Background: Restoring a viable population by reintroduction is the ultimate goal of a large number of ex situ conservation projects for endangered animals. However, many reintroductions fail to establish a population in the wild, partly because released animals cannot acclimate to the native environment of the release site, resulting in very low survival rates. Acclimation training is a technique to resolve this problem, although it does not have positive results in all species. We tested whether acclimation training and soft-release could improve the reintroduction success for captive-bred Cabot’s Tragopan (Tragopan caboti), an endangered pheasant in southern China. Methods: Reintroduction of captive-bred Cabot’s Tragopan was carried out in the Taoyuandong National Nature Reserve, China from 2010 to 2011. We built a soft-release enclosure for acclimation training in the typical montane habitat of this pheasant. Nine birds were acclimated to the environment of this release site in this cage for more than 50 days before release (“trained birds”), while 11 birds remained only in the cage for 3 days prior to release (“untrained birds”). Released birds were tagged with a collar radio-transmitter. Results: Post-release monitoring revealed that the survival rate of trained birds was higher than that of untrained birds after 50 days (trained: 85.7%; untrained: 20.0%). Cox regression analysis showed that there was a significant difference in the mortality rates between the trained and untrained birds. In addition, a survey of the habitat of the experimental and the control groups showed significant differences in habitat selection between the groups. Conclusion: Our study suggests that pre-release acclimatization training is an important factor that can lead to improved survival and habitat selection of captive-bred reintroduced tragopans.

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