Blue-crowned Laughingthrush

The blue-crowned laughingthrush (Pterorhinus courtoisi) is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List and Endangered on the China Species Red List. Endemic to China, the species was known only from five museum skins until 1988 when it dramatically appeared in the international bird trade. Two specimens had been taken in Wuyuan County, Jiangxi Province, in southeast China in 1919 and three collected near Simao, Yunnan Province, southwest China in 1956, but the species had not been seen again in the field and its status in the wild then remained completely unknown. These five specimens were previously considered to represent two distinct Chinese subspecies of the yellow-throated laughingthrush (Garrulax galbanus), but following a taxonomic revision of babblers by Nigel Collar based upon morphology, this was revised and the blue-crowned laughingthrush was considered either as the monotypic species Garrulax courtoisi or as two subspecies (courtoisi and simaoensis). Currently, Handbook of the Birds of the World taxonomy recognises Pterorhinus courtoisi as a monotypic species, a revision also adopted by Species360.

For management purposes of the ex-situ population, and based upon available historical data, all birds in the managed populations (with the exception of birds at the Nanchang Zoo, China) are believed to have originated from the same region. The European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) and Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) manage blue-crowned laughingthrush at the species level.

The remaining wild population of about 300 individuals breed in discrete colonies centered around Wuyuan County in the province of Jiangxi, southeast China. This population has been monitored since its discovery, and annual counts have been made by Prof He Fen-qi of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and by staff and students of the Jiangxi Agricultural College. The Forestry Bureau of Wuyuan County (FBWC) supports protection of a number of key breeding sites. Surveys for further colonies and wintering sites continue in Jiangxi and have also been conducted in former range areas in southwest China.  The species was upgraded to first class protected wild bird status in 2022 under the Wildlife Protection Law of PRC. This means that the species will be truly protected by law, although this also means there will be stricter restrictions on the species transfer, import and export (Pers Comm. Liu Daoquiang Oct 2022). 

The blue-crowned laughingthrush population has been regionally managed in North America since 2003 and  currently qualifies as an AZA Signature Species Survival Plan. The immediate goals include increasing the overall population size as quickly as possible while improving genetic and demographic values to foster long-term sustainability. Since 2008, the AZA population has increased by 213%  to 102 individuals at 22 AZA facilities through improved breeding success and multiple importations from EAZA zoos.

The blue-crowned laughingthrush population is regionally managed in North America as an AZA Yellow Species Survival Plan. The immediate goals include increasing the overall population size as quickly as possible while improving genetic and demographic values to foster long-term sustainability. Since 2008, the AZA population increased 163% through improved breeding success and multiple importations from EAZA zoos.

The European population has been managed by Laura Gardner since 2002 with a European Studbook (ESB) published annually. This studbook was elevated to an EAZA ex situ programme (EEP) in 2015. An International Studbook was approved in February 2012 with Laura serving as its keeper. As of February 2024, the EEP population includes 186 individuals in 38 member institutions and two private participants, and the Asian Zoo population is composed of 35 individuals in three institutions.

Laura Gardner (Wildwood Trust, UK) and Colleen Lynch (Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, US) are co-convenors of the blue-crowned laughing thrush Global Species Management Plan.

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