Friday, 29 July 2011

Two bald ibis fitted with satellite tags

After being fitted with individual transmitters, two bald ibis can now be tracked by satellite. This project was made possible by a collaboration between the High Commission for Water and Forests and the Fight Against Desertification and SEO/Birdlife, along with the participation of other organisations. An adult will carry a transmitter donated by Dublin Zoo and a young fledging will carry one donated by the RSPB. Both will be automatically recharged using sunlight, which will enhance their lifespan. This activity is considered a priority in the Species Action Plan, both nationally and internationally and all the required permits have been obtained.

Group of northern bald ibis in a foraging area
One expert from the wildlife management unit, from the General Directorate of the Natural Environment and Forest Policy of the Spanish Ministry of Environment, Rural and Marine Affairs, travelled to Agadir to support us in this project. The birds were caught with special traps, which had been designed for this particular species and habitat, to prevent any harm to the birds. The team was compossed by staff from Morocco Country Program of BirdLife and from the Souss Massa National Park. The knowledge and experience of the local wardens was particularly invaluable in determining the best location for catching the birds.

On July 19th, the first bird was captured in an area north of Agadir. This adult was thought to be a female and was released without any problems, carrying a 30g GPS tag. At dusk, Mahdi Boujmaa, one of the guards, confirmed that the bird had gone to roost and was in perfect condition. The next day we tried (unsuccessfully) to catch in an area further north but the ibis had moved further south to feed. On day 21 we tried again in the first area but the ibis seemed suspicious and we spent most of the day trying to catch them. We also saw the bird which had been fitted with a tag a couple of days earlier. It can be seen in the picture below – it was feeding normally and the tag didn’t appear to be causing any discomfort. 
Aylal, hunting (PhotoVíctor García Matarranz)

You can see the transmitter and antenna in the photo, on the leg and resting on the ground, and the PVC ring for remote reading. 
Have you seen how they catch their prey? Look in the picture below how it grabs the scorpion by the sting. Undoubtedly this is a skill learned when they’re young, demonstrating the importance of learning in these birds. And to think that we’d been sitting on that ground all day!

(PhotoVíctor García Matarranz)

Finally we managed to catch another ibis. This one was a young one, which fitted perfectly with our plan. The adult, equipped with the GPS transmitter will allow us to monitor feeding and resting areas within the National Park, while the young bird, which will probably travel over much greater distances, was fitted with a tag which will provide less detailed information, but will still be sufficient to enhance our knowledge of juvenile dispersal patterns. 

In this photo, you can see our conservation officer, Adel Abouajaja, releasing Nader (PhotoVíctor García Matarranz)

The adult was named Aylal, which means bird in Amazigh, and the juvenile was named Nader, which means rare in Arabic, and both perfectly describes the status of this species. While we were handling the juvenile ibis, the rest of the group, about 20 birds, waited nearby. When Nader was released, the whole group flew off and circled around, waiting for the juvenile to join them. We couldn’t help but feel a deep emotion, seeing the social character of this species and the care given to their young.

Two days later, Boujmaa called us to say that Aylal had been seen feeding Nader, so it is the parent, probably the mother – what a coincidence! And this may allow us to learn about the family life of this species as well.

Soon we will be able to provide more information on Aylal and Nader, as the data from the satellite tags becomes available.

Mohammed EL Bekkay (Director of PNSM), Victor Matarranz (expert on wildlife from MMARM), Adel Bouajaja (conservation officer) with Aylal , Widad Oubrou (biologist, responsible for monitoring and research at SMNP) and Imad Cherkaoui (responsible for BirdLife International Morocco Country Programme)

The funds raised through donations helps to enhance activities such as this, both by funding the daily work of the wardens, and to fund similar tagging projects in the future. Help us to preserve Northern Bald Ibis

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