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Last Updated: Monday, 24 July 2006, 00:10 GMT 01:10 UK
Rare Middle East bald ibis tagged
Tagged ibis (Image: Mahmoud Abdullah)
The bird is known for its bald red face and "punk" plumage
Three members of a bird species thought to be extinct in the Middle East until four years ago have been satellite tagged to aid conservation efforts.

Scientists will track the migration of the birds as they leave their breeding sites near Palmyra in south-east Syria.

The northern bald ibis was revered by the Egyptian Pharaohs and was once widespread across the Middle East, northern Africa and the European Alps.

There are now only 13 left in Syria and 100 breeding pairs in Morocco.

Three of the seven adults in Syria have been captured and tagged. Scientists from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and BirdLife Middle East hope to locate where the animals fly to for the winter and discover why so few birds come back.

They are expected to head south towards Saudi Arabia and Yemen, or even as far as Eritrea.

Without this tracking project, the bird would have been consigned to history and hieroglyphics
Ibrahim Khader
BirdLife Middle East
"We know next to nothing about where these birds go and this is our very last chance to keep the Syrian population alive," said Paul Buckley, head of global country programmes at the RSPB.

"If we can follow their migration and locate their winter home we should find out why their numbers are so low and how we can protect them. That is the first step towards increasing their numbers again."

Bedouin assistance

The northern bald ibis is classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN-World Conservation Union.

Carving from Edfu temple, Egypt, 100 BC . (Image: RSPB/Martin Davies)
The bird had its own Ancient Egyptian hieroglyph

It has declined rapidly due to habitat loss, human disturbance, hunting and pesticide poisoning.

There are now only two populations left - the handful in Syria and a small number in the Souss-Massa National Park near Agadir in Morocco.

Ibrahim Khader, head of BirdLife Middle East, said re-discovering the ibis was like finding the Arabian phoenix.

"Our survey and tagging work was some of the most challenging fieldwork we had ever done," he said.

"We knew they were in Palmyra because of reports from Bedouin nomads and local hunters. Without this tracking project, the bird would have been consigned to history and hieroglyphics."


SEE ALSO
Endangered bird delights conservationists
09 Jul 02 |  Science/Nature
Africa's birds face farming threat
22 Oct 01 |  Science/Nature

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