Statement of the conservation priorities for the Northern Bald Ibis Geronticus eremita
- An overview of the current status of the critically endangered wild population of Northern Bald Ibis (NBI) clearly shows the overriding importance of maintaining the Souss-Massa wild population (South-west Morocco) which is still subject to numerous threats and pressures. The population has continued to slowly increase and the chances of natural re-colonisation of former breeding sites in Morocco are increasing. It is unclear where a significant proportion of the birds disappear to after the breeding season, and there is a clear need for satellite-tagging to identify the unknown areas.
- The Syrian population has declined and is now on the verge of extinction. It is the probably last remnant colony of the eastern population, and is migratory. Three top priorities MUST be addressed in order to prevent the extinction:
a. Protection of the breeding and feeding areas in Syria, including preventing nest predation following recently updated protocols.
b. Supplementation using juveniles of Turkish origin.
c. Control of hunting away from the breeding sites including sites in Saudi Arabia along the migration route. Saudi Arabia is now a priority range state for the species.
i. A secondary issue is apparently electrocution from perching on poorly designed pylons
- Every year some birds (juveniles as well as older birds) of the Birecik Breeding Station (Turkey) disappear and might not be dead but migrating south. Preliminary release trials of satellite-tracked birds have shown very promising results for potential reestablishment of a fully wild Turkish population and follow-up to this is an important priority. Because only very few juveniles of Birecik are tagged a survey for migrating birds in Yemen, Saudia Arabia, Ethiopia should be undertaken to get an idea where these birds are leaving and which migration sites are of high importance for the Eastern NBI.
- The importance of the Birecik colony is recognised. There is still a need to further improve standards of husbandry and hygiene in the aviaries. A target of increasing the population to 150 birds was agreed in 2003, before any attempts to use these birds in large scale release should be contemplated. Numbers have now increased to 101, and three key priority actions identifies:
a. Further improve productivity of Birecik colony ensuring breeding pairs are housed together during winter
b. Assessment, protection and potential expansion of local feeding areas and habitats
c. Further release tagged juveniles.
- There is an ongoing need to survey potential and former sites of the western (Morocco, Algeria) and eastern (Syria, Yemen, Iraq) populations for colonies but especially in Morocco where the population continues to increase.
- An international Species Action Plan (SAP) for the NBI was elaborated in January 2004 with some updates proposed at the IAGNBI 2006 meeting which were approved in 2008. There is a need to revise this in an updated AEWA format incorporating outputs from recent meetings and the Morocco National Action Plan (PANIC).
- Clearly defining the former distribution of NBI will affect considerations of introduction or reintroduction in the future. It was agreed at the previous meeting that local conditions should be considered ahead of exact historical site records in determining suitability of potential release sites. In view of recent progress in available release methodology, we are now closer to having a potential release technique available. This increases the need for a review of whether and where any potential reintroduction would be most appropriate taking full consideration of IUCN guidelines.
- Release is still considered inappropriate for the Souss-Massa and Morocco where the population is far bigger and is slowly increasing.
- It is recognised that there are two distinctive and separated populations, an Eastern and a Western population and that their respective ranges should be respected. There is an urgent need to clarify the genetic status of the Syrian/Turkish and Moroccan populations, (CITES and legal permissions will need to be clarified in advance to facilitate this). This should be extended to the captive populations held in zoos and will clarify whether there are potential inbreeding problems.
- Research projects have demonstrated that techniques are available for establishing a sedentary free-flying colony. For a migratory colony they are also looking promising. The lessons and full protocols involved need to be published and fully reviewed in the context of their wider utility.
- The captive population of Western origin NBI is managed through studbooks and continues to slowly increase. Sufficient birds can be made available for potential release or reintroduction programmes, but cooperation between holders is still essential to control inbreeding and maintain genetic variability in conjunction with the necessary genetic analysis.
- Reintroduction may be the main opportunity to increase the range of NBI in a significant manner. Any reintroduction programme should have the goal of creating a self-sustaining wild population of NBI. There is no immediate urgency for reintroduction but the need for caution in areas close to the extant wild colonies is paramount.
- There is an up to date pre-release veterinary protocol which has to be strictly followed prior to any experimental releases.
- There is a general need to raise the profile of NBI within range states in order to generate wider support for conserving the species.
These priorities reflect the main points of the AEWA International Species Action Plan (downloadable from this website) and the ongoing updating process of this.