The Ocellated Turkey is listed as a CITES Appendix III species (UNEP-WCMC 2012), near-threatened by the IUCN (BirdLife International 2011), and is a species of high concern to Partners in Flight (Berlanga et al. 2010). Based on determinations of habitat loss, Berlanga et al. (2010) estimated that 50% or more of the population has been lost in Mexico during the last century, and it is likely that similar rates of loss have occurred throughout the species’ range. It has an estimated world breeding population of 20,000-49,999 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2011). In Mexico, this species is listed as Threatened (SEMARNAT 2002). Innovative research and monitoring efforts are needed to more fully understand the conservation status of the species. Populations of Ocellated Turkeys have decreased through time and realistic management strategies are needed to alleviate unregulated subsistence pressure within their range.
Several recent research efforts have extended our knowledge of Ocellated Turkey conservation. A capture and relocation project was sponsored by the Mexican government (Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales [SEMARNAT]) to re-establish extirpated populations in portions of their historic range. A breeding behavior and parasite-load study has taken place in Belize and a study of the potential to develop a community-based sport hunting industry was recently completed in Guatemala (see Baur et al. 2012).
The current conservation status of this species should be interpreted recognizing the paucity of research on population levels, especially in habitat strata inaccessible to humans. Additionally, published research is often based on observational data from birds inhabiting protected areas that are habituated to humans and may not be representative of wild counterparts.
Effects of human activity on populations
Subsistence hunters are likely a major source of predation to M. ocellata (Escamilla et al. 2000, Gonzalez et al. 1996, Baur et al. 2012). Gonzalez et al. (1996) conducted a survey of 48 subsistence hunters within 200 km of Tikal National Park, Guatemala and found that 88% of respondents hunted Ocellated Turkeys and 67% had hunted Ocellated Turkeys within the past year. Hunting generally took place in the months of March, April, and May when the male turkeys could be easily located from their singing. Twenty-five percent of respondents killed fewer than 5 turkeys per year, 25% killed 5–10 turkeys per year, 12% killed 11–20 turkeys per year, 19% killed >20 turkeys per year, and 19% did not know or remember the number of turkeys killed per year. Baur (1999) reports that subsistence hunting pressure is inversely related to employment opportunities for residents living within the Ocellated Turkey’s range.
Baur et al. (2012) demonstrated that regulated sport hunting managed correctly has the potential to be an effective conservation tool and can boost the economic livelihood of local communities. The increased value per turkey offered by regulated sport hunting is substantially greater than the value for food offered by a single turkey and has motivated localized protection from unauthorized subsistence hunters (Baur et al. 2012).
Anthropogenic habitat alteration impacts Ocellated Turkeys in many ways. Unsustainable logging and wood harvesting, followed by slash and burn agriculture, has the potential to directly eliminate habitat and logging roads or skid trails may increase access to Ocellated Turkey habitat and will likely result in increased subsistence hunting pressure. Small scale conversion of native habitat into agricultural lands may provide an accessible food source and boost populations. However, this will only occur if adequate protection from unauthorized over-hunting is provided, a rarity throughout much of the Ocellated Turkey’s range.