A bird believed to be extinct more than 70 years ago has been found in Myanmar.
The Jerdon’s babbler (Chrysomma altirostre) had not been seen in the Southeast Asian nation since July 1941, was spotted in the town of Myitkyo near the Sittaung River.
On May 2014, the researchers from Wildlife Conservation Society, Myanmar’s Nature and Wildlife Conservation Division and National University of Singapore (NUS) rediscovered the bird while surveying a site around an abandoned agriculture post.
This discovery was described in detail on the recently published issue of Birding Asia, his magazine of the Oriental Bird Club.
Colin Poole, director of WCS’s Regional Conservation Hub in Singapore said that the degradation of these vast grasslands had led many to consider this subspecies of Jerdon’s babbler extinct. “This discovery not only proves that the species still exists in Myanmar but that the habitat can still be found as well. Future work is needed to identify remaining pockets of natural grassland and develop systems for local communities to conserve and benefit from them.”
Scientists played back a recording and were rewarded with the sighting of an adult Jerdon’s babbler after initially hearing the bird’s distinct call. Over the next 48 hours, the team spotted several more Jerdon’s babblers and team managed to get blood samples and high-quality crystal clear photographs.
The small, brown bird, about the size of a house sparrow in 1862 was first described by British naturalist T. C. Jerdon hence it was named after him.
The species was common in the vast natural grassland that once covered the Ayeyarwady and Sittaung flood plains around the country’s commercial capital Yangon at the beginning of the 20th century. Since then, its numbers declined due to loss of its natural habitat. Agriculture and communities gradually replaced most of these grasslands as the area has developed.
With the advent of Myanmar’s military dictatorship in the 1960s, the country shut itself off from the outside world including most environmentalists who studied birds and other species including elephants and tigers. But since moving back to civilian rule in 2010, the country has opened up and that has been a windfall to nature lovers because it has led to the discovery of new species, including the discovery of a spoon-billed sand piper population in 2008 and a new monkey species in 2010.
Currently, the Jerdon’s babbler in Myanmar is one of three subspecies found in the Indus, Brahmaputra, and Ayeyarwady River basins in South Asia. Researchers are exploring whether this should be treated as a full species and will be doing further DNA analysis on it after this rediscovery
Frank Rheindt of NUS who was a key member of the field team and leader of the genetic analysis said “Our sound recordings have indicated that there may be pronounced bioacoustic differences between the Myanmar subspecies and those further West, and genetic data may well confirm the distinctness of the Myanmar population.”