The Northern Bald Ibis is one of the most endangered bird species in the world, with two small wild populations in Morocco and the Middle East. The Middle Eastern flock constitutes of only a handful of birds. One of them was recently shot by a hunter in Saudi Arabia.
Formerly, the range of this species extended across parts of southern and central Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. It even features in the hieroglyphs of Ancient Egypt. Following a huge population and range decline, the bulk of the wild population of 210 birds now occurs in Morocco, but a tiny population was rediscovered in 2002, in Syria.And of course, with a species this threatened, hunting is hardly the only threat.
A satellite-tracking project led by BirdLife International and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in collaboration with the Desert Commission of the Syrian Government, established that the Syrian adults migrate to the Ethiopian highlands each winter, but the wintering area of younger birds remains a mystery. This migration across the deserts of the Middle East to north-east Africa puts these birds under threat from the region’s many hunters.
Researchers from BirdLife, the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) and IUCN, trying to find out more about the movements of the young birds, fitted two birds with satellite tags, and it is one of these birds – a female – which was shot.
Three birds from a semi-captive population in Turkey were released last year to see if they would migrate. They flew south as far as Jordan, but subsequently were found dead. Initially, it was feared they had been poisoned, but later it was realised that the birds had been electrocuted, emphasising that other threats can have a devastating impact on the future of the Northern Bald Ibis in the Middle East.Hunting of bald ibises is banned in Saudi Arabia, but clearly the ban does not stop it.
More satellite-tagged birds released from Turkey this year, flew south as far as Saudi Arabia but they too disappeared not much more than 100 km from where the Syrian bird was shot. Although their fate has not been established, researchers believe these birds too may have succumbed to hunters.
Blog Note: This week I will be in Cape May to assist with raptor banding. Blogging might be light at times, but I will post as often as possible.