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White-winged Guan Penelope albipennis

Ferrnando Angulo Pratolongo
Version: 1.0 — Published June 3, 2011


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The White-winged Guan is classified as Critically Endangered (BirdLife International 2010) and it is under the same category by Peruvian legislation (Decreto Supremo N° 004-2014- MINAGRI. 2014). It is also listed on Appendix I of CITES.

The major threats this species faces are hunting, habitat destruction and habitat fragmentation (see Effects of human activity on populations). Out of these, habitat fragmentation seems to have an irreversible effect. Hence, it is recommended to ensure the survival of the two existing subpopulations by ensuring the genetic viability of the populations through the release of captive hatched individuals and by mitigating hunting and habitat loss in both subpopulations.

Of these two threats, hunting is more deleterious to wild populations; the killing of an even a low number of birds (8–10 individuals) can cause major effects on population stability and connectivity. Large areas with suitable habitat for guans have been found where the guans occurred many years ago, but where in recent years it has been extirpated locally due to hunting. This has caused a 30 km separation of two populations in the southern part of the distribution; if hunting persists, these two populations will remain isolated forever and could experience genetic bottlenecks and other associated deleterious affects. On the other hand, there are portions of the range that have suffered a relatively high degree of habitat loss and disturbance due to agricultural development, but local people are respectful of the guans and a population of as few as six birds survives with success. Since agricultural activities primarily are located on slopes, and not in the gallery forest adjacent to water courses, the impact of agriculture is less damaging to the guans than hunting. Long-term conservation of the White-winged Guan must first ensure conservation of the two subpopulations using reintroduction/reinforcement and creation of protected areas. The most urgent action involves public awareness campaigns that convey the message about the guan's conservation, its endemic and threatened status and, most importantly, successfully ban hunting. This must be complemented with educational campaigns for school children.

Effects of human activity on populations

The major threats confronting the White-winged Guan are hunting, habitat destruction, and habitat fragmentation.

Hunting still occurs despite public awareness and educational campaigns developed over the past 30 years. Hunters are both local people living within the distribution of the guan, and also visiting hunters from nearby towns and cities such as Salas, Ferreñafe, Chongoyape, Chiclayo and Piura. During research on wild and reintroduced populations over the last 5 years, evidence of poached guans (both reintroduced and wild) has been found (Angulo 2004). Local hunters, when questioned about their activities, replied that they were not aware of the conservation of the species. Recent research on the human populations around the range of the White-winged Guan demonstrates that hunting is not a regular practice but only is opportunistic, with 15% of the human population hunting sporadically (Moran et al. 2006). There is not a single family that bases its income on the hunting and selling of this species, probably due to the guan's small size (1.6 kg.) compared to other species that are hunted, such as white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus; 30–50 kg) or collared peccary (Tayassu tajacu; 17–30 kg).

Habitat loss occurs throughout the range of the White-winged Guan, and is due principally to agriculture and cattle ranching. Most of the agriculture is seasonal, during the rainy season (December–April) and only during years with rainfall. The most abundant crop is maize (Zea mays), and farm plots are placed on flattened areas along ridgetops with low slopes (< 45º). There also is some irrigated agriculture in the guan's range, but this occurs only in limited areas, because water availability is very poor. Livestock ranching occurs mainly with cows and goats, and, to a lesser extent, donkeys, horses and sheep. This practice damages scarce water sources in the dry forest and also reduces natural regeneration of tree seedlings, much of them forming part of the guans diet. Wood extraction is also a threat but is of lower impact than hunting, since it is selective and on a small scale. Timber extraction is mainly for flooring (Tabebuia guayacan and Loxopterygium huasango), boxes for shipping fruit (Bursera graveolens and Eriotheca ruizii), construction(Muntingia calabura and Cordia lutea), religious uses (Bursera graveolens) and others.

Long-term threats include habitat fragmentation with the wild population fragmented
into two metapopulations (north and south), separated by the Chiclayo-Jaen-Tarapoto road, and associated human colonization, which act as a physical barrier (Angulo et al. 2006). This road climbs up through the drainage of the Río Olmos and crosses the Andes at Abra Porculla (Porculla Pass). Heavy human settlement on both sides of the road has cleared large areas of dry forest, where now there are no guans. The implementation of an irrigation project on the lower areas west of the town of Olmos includes the construction of a tunnel to bring water from the Río Chamaya (or Río Huancabamba) from the east side of the Andes to the western side. The tunnel construction, which is close to and parallel to the Chiclayo-Jaen road, also involves  clearing forests and keeping human settlements in the same area.

Mining concessions were granted in the northern part of the species's range in 2008 (in the area close to the town of Serrán, in the upper Río Piura drainage). If minerals are found and exploited, then suitable habitat will be destroyed.

Conservation actions

Responses to conserve the species include the creation of a captive-breeding programme, with the aim of reintroducing the species in the future. This programme was created in 1978 by Gustavo del Solar through the ‘Bárbara D`Achille’ breeding centre, located in Olmos, Lambayeque. In 1986 it produced the first captive-bred chick and the captive population by 1987 was fourteen guans. In 1990 there were twenty-four guans, in 1995, sixty guans and by 2000 there were around 120 birds.

Also in 1978, the Lambayeque Regional Forestry Authority prohibited hunting and wood extraction within the White-winged Guan’s range. In 1980, a ministerial resolution declared an official hunting ban on the species, and in 1982 the Peruvian government created a protected area in Laquipampa, specifically to conserve the wild population. White-winged Guan was included in the checklist of globally threatened birds in 1988 and on the Peruvian list of threatened birds in 1990.

In 2001, with the captive population by now sufficiently large, 16 guans were reintroduced into Chaparrí private conservation area (Angulo 2004). A total of 45 guans were released in the reserve between 2001 and 2005. Finally, in 2007, eight birds were released at Laquipampa Wildlife Refuge, following a feasibility study (Angulo & Beck 2004). A total of 69 guans left the breeding centre as part of the reintroduction programme run by the NGO Asociación Cracidae Perú.

There is a National Strategy for the species, for both the north and south sub populations (Angulo 2005, 2006). There, most of the threats are considered and a strategy is elaborated to mitigate these threats.

In addition, BirdLife International (2011) recommends, among other actions, the following;

• Continue to develop the potential for ecotourism

• Create a protected area north of the species's known distribution

• Involve local communities in the conservation strategy for the species

Recommended Citation

Angulo Pratolongo, F. (2011). White-winged Guan (Penelope albipennis), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/nb.whwgua1.01