Monday 13 May 2013

Last Northern Bald Ibis in Syria?

The events in Syria fill us with great sadness and grief. In spite of the crisis, the local team has continued to monitor the ibis, and has reported the sad news that only one of the Northern Bald Ibis has returned to the breeding site at Palmyra this spring. Unfortunately, there are no signs of any more birds so far returning from their migration to Ethiopia. The returning female Zenobia was last year paired to Odeinat, the last male, which was fitted with a small satellite tag that stopped transmitting in southern Saudi Arabia in July 2012. It has not been possible to search for Odeinat, as the last signals did not give an accurate location. Subsequently, a total of four birds was seen briefly in January this year by Yilma Abebe and Tariku Dagne (a visit supported by the Ethiopian Natural History Society and the Culture and Tourism Office of Ethiopia, with funds from RSPB) at the usual Ethiopian highland wintering site, but it now seems clear that only one of these birds has returned to the breeding area.

Last Syrian ibis among bedouin khaimahs 
(Photo M.S. Abdallah)
This looks ominously like it may be the end for the relict eastern population of the species, having been rediscovered in 2002 when there were 3 breeding pairs. Despite huge efforts the colony dwindled to just one pair in the past two years and now it seems to just the one bird. This comes at a time when coordinated efforts are strengthening and indeed after the establishment of the new International Working Group was held in Jazan, Saudi Arabia in November 2012.

Among the hopes for maintaining the eastern population are further releases from the former colony site at Birecik in SE Turkey where a semi-wild population persists.

Historical note:
Zenobia was the last empress of Palmyra, Odeinat's widow, who, after expanding his kingdom to Egypt and Anatolia, was defeated and captured by Aurelian in 272.

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