Birecik Breeding Center, Turkey
For the eastern population in Birecik, Turkey former records in 1930 report 3000 birds. However, as a result of especially the use of pesticides (DDT) and human disturbance the number declined to 400 in 1982. Following the rapid decline a program was started in 1977 to save the existing population However, the loss of the wild colony could not be stopped; 5 pairs were left in 1986, 7 birds in 1987 and 1 in 1989. The wild colony was declared extinct in 1990.
A total number of at least 41 birds were caught between 1977 and 1989 to establish a captive breeding colony. The offspring of this colony were reintroduced into the wild population and thought to migrate with the wild birds. Although some of the released Ibis presumably encountered the wild migratory birds, this resulted in very few of the ex captive birds joining the wild flock. Since 1989, 155 birds have disappeared from the Birecik colony and the fate of these birds is not known.
Presently the Northern Bald Ibis population in Birecik survives only as a semi- wild population. The birds are kept in aviaries during winter and are released in spring and breed at the cliffs nearby. In autumn the birds are recaptured. In 2008 the population size increased up to 100 birds.
In summer 2007 3 juveniles were left outside during winter and 2 left the area to reappear at Birecik in spring 2008. 5 birds were selected for further release including the 2 returning birds of 2007. Two of these were fitted with satellite tags. The birds left the area early September and from satellite locations at least one went to the recent Palmyra colony site in Syria. They passed east of Damascus and crossed into the Jordan desert. When looking for the birds 3 were found dead in south of Amman. The autopsies indicated that they died by electrocution.
Regarding the juveniles of Birecik which returned from their wintering grounds in spring 2008 these losses might enlighten to us the problems these birds are facing. These recent events – sad though they are- showed us that after 20 years of semi-captivity, off spring of the Turkish NBI still can migrate successfully, that they have the ability to find the Palmyra colony, and are capable of surviving a winter outside the aviaries and are returning to Birecik.