Northern Bald Ibis (Geronticus eremita)
The Northern Bald Ibis Geronticus eremita, L. (below abbreviated to NBI) has always been regarded as a special bird species: breeding in inaccessible cliffs it was given the name “eremita” meaning living like a hermit. Migrating south along the peninsula of Saudi Arabia in the direction of Mecca it has been a companion of Muslims on their pilgrimage and therefore is regarded as a holy bird. In Turkey it was presumed that the NBI was carrying the souls of the ancestors and therefore untouchable. In Europe during the Middle Ages the nestlings of the NBI were an appreciated gourmet dish for the upper class and therefore protected. All these positive attitudes towards the species however did not prevent its extinction in Europe its decline being during the early 20th century.
More recently and fortunately the situation of wild NBI has – at least – partly changed to the better, the western population has increased due to conservation and good breeding success and a new, however very small, eastern population was discovered in 2002 in Syria. In contrast to the wild population the story regarding the captive population of NBI has been successful. Over 1200 birds are currently kept in European, North American and Japanese zoos.