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The Alagoas Curassow (Mitu mitu) is a glossy-black, pheasant-like bird. It was formerly found in forests in north eastern parts of Brazil such as Pernambuco and Alagoas (hence its name) (Harry 2006), but it is now extinct in the wild; there are about 130 members in captivity.
German naturalist J. Marcgrave first identified the Alagoas Curassow in 1648 along the North-Eastern Coast of Brazil. However, in later years, opinion about the origin and legitimacy of the bird began to arise due to the lack of evidence. It was only after 1951, in the coastal forests of Alagoas, North-East Brazil, where an adult female curassow was rediscovered. It was then that the Mitu mitu began to be regarded as a specific taxon (Silveira).
In the forests of São Miguel dos Campos the Mitu mitu was detected again in 1951. At that time fewer than 60 birds were left in the wild (Silveira). Several authors in the 1970s brought to light the growing destruction of its habitat and the rarity of the species. Even with all of this concern, the last large forest remnants where the Mitu mitu lived were demolished to make space for sugarcane plantations (Silveira).
The Alagoas Curassow measures a length of approximately 83–89 centimetres (33–35 in). Feathers covering its body are black and glossy, with a blue-purple hue to it (BirdLife International 2013). Mitu mitu also has a large, bright red beak with a white tip, the beak flattened at its sides. The same red coloration on found on its legs and feet. The tips of its tails are light brown in color, with chestnut colored feathers under its tail. It has a unique grey colored, crescent-shaped path of bare skin covering its ears, not found in other curassows (Harry 2006). The distinct coloration separates M.mitu as its own species apart from other Curassow. Differences between the males and females of the species are not too distinct: females tend to be lighter in color and slightly smaller in size (Sick 1980). The birds tend to live up to twenty four years old in captivity (The Website of Everything 2010). Videos recorded in captivity show that the cracid sporadically makes a high-pitched chirping sound, you can view this here.
Since 1977, the Mitu mitu population has been in captivity. It had numbers of 44 birds in 2000. In 2008, there were 130 birds in two aviaries. About 35% of the birds were hybrids with M.tuberosum (BirdLife International 2012).
Habitat and Ecology
The Mitu mitu reside in subtropical/tropical moist lowland primary forest, where it was known to consume fruit of Phyllanthus, Eugenia and "mangabeira." It was most regionally extinct and extirpated in Alagoas and Pernambuco, North East Brazil (BirdLife International 2012).
Due to their absence in the wild and lack of study previously conducted on these cracids before their extinction in the wild, not much is known about their breeding habits outside of captivity. Alagoas Curassow females begin reproducing at about 2 years old. In captivity, they produce about 2-3 eggs each year (Harry 2006). There has been a greater genetic variability amongst the Alagoas Curassow after 1990, when hybrid breeding programs were introduced; the Alagoas Curassow were bred with its closest relatives, the Razor-Billed Curassow (BirdLife International 2013).
The Alagoas Curassow was first mentioned by German naturalist Georg Marcgraf in his work Historia Naturalis Brasiliae which was published in 1648. Because of lack of information and specimens, it was considered the same species as the far more common Razor-billed Curassow, until after its rediscovery in 1951 in the Alagoas lowland forests, Brazil. Following the review of Pereira & Baker (2004), they are today believed to be a fairly basal lineage of its genus and closer to the Crestless Curassow, the other Mitu species with brown eumelanin in the tail tip. Its lineage is distinct since the Miocene-Pliocene boundary (little more than 5 million years ago), when it became isolated in the refugium in the Atlantic Forest (Pereira & Baker 2004).
Being extinct in the wild, the species as a whole is being kept alive via two separate captive populations. Within these captive populations exist roughly 130 individual birds. A reintroduction plan is being organized, although difficulties are present. Even if breeding a solid numbered population were to happen, the species would need a large, natural geographical area to be reintroduced to. Human expansion has caused nearly all of the Mitu Mitu's natural habitat to be destroyed. A decently sized forest in north-eastern Brazil has been proposed to be the site of reintroduction in the future. Precautions would have to be taken in order to prevent illegal hunting of the species to occur after their reintroduction process has gone underway.
The Alagoas Curassow became extinct in the wild due to deforestation and hunting. The last wild Alagoas Curassow was seen and killed in 1984, or possibly 1987 or 1988. The captive population has been extensively hybridized with the Razor-billed Curassow, and there are several dozen purebred birds left. These are being maintained and bred in two privately owned professional aviaries in Brazil mainly due to lack of official interest owing to the long-standing doubt about the taxon's validity. They can reach an age of more than 24 years in captivity.
Diet and Interactions
The Alagoas Currasow is well known to subsist on a diet of fruits and nuts. Although not much information is known about this specie’s interactions and behavior in the wild, the stomach contents of these birds were found to contain fruits specifically from the castelo tree. It has also been said that they enjoy fruits from the plant Clarisia racemosa. The lack of knowledge about their wildlife behavior makes it difficult to know how the birds interact with other species; they are known to be a captive population. This is a major concern when discussing whether or not to bring them back to the wild. We do not know how they will interact with others and what effects their reintroduction can have. It is now suspected to be safer, with only major concerns about natural gene exchange. Scientists have been controlling the sexual interactions within the species by pairing certain birds together in order to try and recreate the original Alagoas Currasaw. However, we do know that the Chimek Spider Monkey is also feasts from the Clarisia racemosa, making it in competition with the Alagoas Currasow. Generally, the female birds weigh less than the males and lay about 8-10 eggs a year. The average lifespan is about 24 years.
Future of the Species
With the objective to preserve the species and to increase genetic variability in the population, the "original" stock had their DNA examined by scientists in order to guide future pairings. Once a captive population has been successfully created, they can start being reintroduced back into the wild. The more ideal locations would be large forest remnants, such as those located at Usina Utinga-Leão and Usina Serra Grande (Silveira).
To further support the Mitu mitu, educational work with local communities to maintain habitats and to change hunting habits, must be included in any attempt of reintroduction. Reestablishment of the species will also need to be under constant watch, and these measures must be given a high priority. There is still hope for the species. With plentiful effort, funding, and commitment based on stable conservation science it will be possible once again to return this species to the Alagoas (Silveira).
- BirdLife International (2000): Alagoas Curassow. In: Threatened Birds of the World: 132. Lynx Edicions & BirdLife International, Barcelona & Cambridge, UK. ISBN 0-946888-39-6
- Pereira, Sérgio Luiz; Baker, Allan J.& Wajntal, Anita (2002): Combined nuclear and mitochondrial DNA sequences resolve generic relationships within the Cracidae (Galliformes, Aves). Systematic Biology 51(6): 946-958. doi:10.1080/10635150290102519 PMID 12554460 PDF fulltext
- Silveira, Luís Fábio; Olmos, Fábio & Long, Adrian J. (2004): Taxonomy, history, and status of Alagoas Curassow Mitu mitu (Linnaeus, 1766), the world’s most threatened cracid. Ararajuba 12(2): 125-132. PDF fulltext
- Harry, Tim. "Bird Facts Alagoas Curassow." Birds: Critters 360. 6 Dec. 2006. Web. 23 October 2013. <http://www.critters360.com/index.php/bird-facts-alagoas-curassow-2791/>.
- Grau, Erwin T., S. Pereira, L. Silveira, A. Wajntal. "Molecular markers contribute to a breeding programme of the extinct-in-the-wild Alagoas Curassow Mitu Mitu and confirm the validity of the species." Birdlife Conservation International. 13 (2003): 115-126. Web of Science (Arts & Humanities, Social Sciences and Science Citation Indexes). Web. 22 October 2013.
- "Alagoas Curassow." Birdlife International. 2013. Web. 23 October 2013. <www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=100>.
- "Alagoas Curassow." The Website of Everything. 2010. Web. 23 October 2013. <http://thewebsiteofeverything.com/animals/birds/Galliformes/Cracidae/Mitu-mitu>.
- Sick, Helmut. "Characteristics of the Razor-Billed Curassow (Mitu Mitu Mitu)." Ornitologia neotropical. 82 (1980): 227-228. Neotropical Ornithological Society. Web. 23 October 2013.
- "Alagoas Curassow (Mitu Mitu)." Arkive. Web. 24 October 2013. <http://www.arkive.org/alagoas-curassow/mitu-mitu/>
- Kirwan, Guy M. "Mitu Mitu." Neotropical Birtds Online. Web. 24 October 2013. <http://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/portal/species/overview?p_p_spp=81351>
GlobalSpecies.org: 2012 http://www.globalspecies.org/ntaxa/902194#prey
- BirdLife International (2013). "Mitu mitu". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
- Another case of successful interbreeding between quite distant species, as is often found in cracids. See for example Crax species.