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Tuesday, 9 July, 2002, 12:14 GMT 13:14 UK
Endangered bird delights conservationists
Birds, Gianluca Serra
The total world population numbers about 220 birds
Image by Gianluca Serra

Conservationists have identified a new colony of the iconic but critically endangered Northern Bald Ibis.

Three breeding pairs, incubating eggs, and a seventh adult were spotted in an Al Badia (desertic steppe) area of central Syria.


Discovering this bird was like finding the Arabian Phoenix regenerated from the ashes

Gianluca Serra, survey team leader
The bird (Geronticus eremita), which was once a common sight across the Mediterranean region, stands on the brink of extinction.

Two guards have now been posted to watch over the nests and collect data on the breeding cycle.

This is the first evidence of the continued breeding of Northern Bald Ibises in the Middle East since a colony at Birecek in Turkey became extinct in 1989.

Since then there have been sporadic sightings in Saudi Arabia and Eritrea, suggesting that a breeding population still existed somewhere in the region.

Bedouin reports

The new birds were found by a team carrying out wildlife surveys on behalf of the Syrian Government's Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform.

Bird, CH Gomersall/RSPB
On the brink of global extinction
Image by CH Gomersall/RSPB

Survey team leader, Gianluca Serra, said: "Discovering this bird was like finding the Arabian Phoenix regenerated from the ashes.

"The survey work through remote and rough terrain was some of the most exciting and challenging fieldwork we had ever experienced.

"Throughout it all, my Syrian colleagues... were optimistic that Northern Bald Ibises still existed in the Al Badia or desertic steppe of central Syria because we had received reports of their presence from Bedouin nomads and local hunters."

The discovery of the birds is reported in the latest issue of BirdLife International's quarterly magazine, World Birdwatch.

Few individuals

Dr Michael Rands, Director of BirdLife International, said: "This fascinating species, once common throughout much of the Middle East and southern Europe, is now on the brink of global extinction, despite much conservation effort in Morocco and Turkey.

"This fantastic discovery gives new hope that the Northern Bald Ibis can be saved."

The reasons behind the birds' decline include human persecution, loss of steppe or unintensive agricultural areas, pesticide poisoning, human disturbance and dam construction.

Until this recent discovery, the total world population was put at 220 individual birds, confined to two colonies in north-west Morocco. The Northern Bald Ibis is classified as Critically Endangered according to the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List criteria.

This means it faces an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild in the immediate future.

See also:

30 May 02 | Science/Nature
24 Jul 02 | Science/Nature
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