There are 49 pheasant species native to Asia, with just one, the Congo Peafowl, occurring in central Africa. The remainder range from the Philippines through to northern China, and across to Sri Lanka and eastern Greece. They are generally large birds that nest and spend most of their time on the ground in forested habitats. In many species, the males have extravagant plumage, brightly coloured skin adornments and loud calls. Taken together, these characteristics have led to them being heavily hunted for their meat and plumage, whilst deforestation has deprived them of much habitat. This has resulted in many species being named in the Red List of those threatened with extinction. One species, the Red Junglefowl is the supposed progenitor of the domestic chicken, and can therefore be regarded the most important bird species to mankind. And the Ring-necked (Common) Pheasant has become perhaps the world’s most widely introduced game-hunting species. The size and beauty of some pheasants has led to them being regarded as cultural icons, which offers them protection or even sacred status, as for the Indian Peafowl. Others have been adopted as flagships for the protection of their habitats and ecosystems, or even as national icons for conservation, as for the Himalayan Monal in Nepal.
The IUCN-SSC Pheasant Specialist Group was founded in 1993 alongside four other SGs responsible for all the other Galliformes species, and ran until 2009 when it was absorbed into the present Galliformes SG. The PSG produced two editions of its Action Plan (1995, 2000), which were influential in focusing research work and conservation action on a set of internationally-agreed priority cases. Together with the other SGs and the World Pheasant Association (a UK-based NGO), a long series of symposia and training workshops were organised in different locations across Asia. Local capacity was also improved by a mentoring scheme designed to provide advice on project proposals and funding routes, and then with data analysis and the preparation of reports and publications. Annual re-assessments of the threatened status of species were carried out in collaboration with BirdLife International, the IUCN-appointed Red List Authority for all birds.