Last throw of the dice for the Syrian Northern bald ibis12/07/2010 23:12:45 Donation of ibis gives Middle East's rarest bird renewed hope of survival
July 2010. In the time of the pharaohs, the northern bald ibis was revered as a god, Thoth. But now this bird has become the rarest in the Middle East - with just three wild individuals in Syria, plus one juvenile reared this year. Formerly thought to be extinct in the wild in the Middle East, in 2002 researchers were delighted when they discovered a tiny population near the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria, their last known refuge in the region.
Six semi-captive birds released
Details of the project:
Last year at a meeting of the International Advisory Group for the species (IAGNBI) - hosted by the Syrian General Commission for Al Badia Management and Development (GCB) to update the Species Action Plan - the Turkish Government agreed to send two breeding pairs and two juveniles from the precious but healthy Birecik semi-wild population to set up a captive-breeding population at Palmyra.
The ongoing objective is to release juveniles to supplement the remaining wild birds. Due to the complicated social system and behaviour of northern bald ibis, it was always going to be a huge challenge to integrate the birds, although it was agreed that this should be tried if at all possible.
The six birds were selected and then transported to Palmyra from Birecik, and brought to the purpose-built aviary at Al Talila reserve. A pre-release aviary and husbandry expertise of Barbara Riedler was sent from Austrian expert group ‘Waldrappteam' and this was erected and the birds moved here. The birds were fitted with satellite transmitters by expert Lubomir Peske.
The first very important event was that the three wild birds visited the aviary, and clearly interacted with the Turkish birds, but then less than a day later, two of these wild birds departed two weeks earlier than usual migrating south through Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
The project team had hoped to build up the strength of the juveniles further before release, but they didn't want to miss the chance for them to interact and learn from the one remaining wild adult.
So the Turkish juveniles ('Urfa' and ‘Firat') - plus the one wild-bred Syrian juvenile ('Ameer'), which was briefly taken into captivity, were released, and the project team enjoyed the fantastic sight of the birds feeding and behaving as a flock with the wild Syrian adult (Salama) which provided a great deal of encouragement. But the major event, again sooner than expected, was when this flock also departed and started migration to the south. Learning more from the movements of the birds is now the major objective for being able to address any threats that arise.
To follow the progress of the birds on the web, please visit: www.rspb.org.uk/ibistracking
This operation is the result of a major international collaboration of efforts between conservation NGOs, Governments, researchers, funders and individuals.
Rediscovered in 2002
The seven adult birds discovered in 2002 had by this year dwindled to just three, despite extensive protection in Syria. There is increasing evidence that hunting and other pressures outside the breeding grounds have driven this decline, and satellite tracking the birds is a major tool for understanding and addressing the problems.