Fatbirder - linking birders worldwide... Wildlife Travellers see our sister site: WAND

Tracking Disappearing Rarities

Satellite tags will show where Northern Bald Ibis go

Most of the world`s Northern Bald Ibis Geronticus eremite breed in Morocco`s Souss-Massa National Park. But outside the breeding season little is known about the birds` movements, and without this information it has been impossible to identify measures for the year-round conservation of this Critically Endangered species.

Now a team from SEO/BirdLife (BirdLife in Spain) and staff from Souss-Massa National Park, with collaboration from Spain`s Ministry of the Environment, has succeeded for the first time ever in trapping and fitting three Northern Bald Ibis with satellite tracking devices. The Northern Bald Ibis was once widespread across northern Africa, the Middle East and even the Alps. By 1997 the bird`s population had fallen to fewer than 50 pairs, largely confined to coastal cliffs within the National Park, near Agadir. This long-term decline has been driven by human disturbance and persecution, especially hunting, as well as habitat loss and pesticide poisoning.

Souss-Massa National Park was officially designated in 1991, with the conservation of the Northern Bald Ibis as a primary aim. An intensive monitoring and conservation programme was launched in 1998, with the participation of local communities and support from the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK). Spain`s Agency for International Cooperation (AECI) and the African Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) have supported different parts of the project. The National Park`s staff have been reinforced by seven wardens, contracted by SEO/BirdLife. While numbers of Northern Bald Ibises still remain critically low, the breeding population has doubled to around 100 pairs. 98 pairs started breeding in 2003; and 110 chicks fledged, despite bad weather.

At present, we have data on breeding, habitat selection, feeding, etc., but many of the birds disappear for weeks at a time outside the breeding season, and we know very little about where they go. said SEO`s Research Director, Ram?n Marti. The satellite transmitters fixed to these three individuals ? two adults and a 2004 juvenile ? will make it possible to monitor their movements during the coming months. This information is key to identifying suitable conservation measures outside the breeding area, when the birds face unknown threats.

4th July 2014