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Palmyra's Northern Bald Ibis

Captive breeding proposed

A workshop on conservation of the Critically Endangered Northern Bald Ibis Geronticus eremita, has concluded that the Palmyra birds should be supplemented with juveniles taken from the expanding semi-wild population at Birecik, Turkey. The meeting was held in Palmyra, Syria, near the site where a relict population of the bird was discovered in 2002.The workshop was organised by the Syrian Society for the Conservation of Wildlife and Syrian Ministry for Agriculture and Agrarian Reform, the General Commission for the Management and Development of al-Badia, with participation and funding from BirdLife International's Middle East Secretariat, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB, BirdLife in the UK), and Germany's Hanns Seidel Foundation.

The proposed captive Northern Bald Ibis aviary will be established within the Talila Wildlife Reserve, part of the al-Badia desertic steppe rangelands east of Palmyra, managed by the Syrian government and funded by UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation and others to restore to ecological health. Workshop participants included community representatives, local hunters, Bald Ibis Protected Area staff, and senior officials of the General Commission for the Management and Development of al-Badia.

The aim of the workshop was to identify the main problems affecting the Bald Ibis breeding colony, to propose practical solutions to these problems, and, develop and endorse a national Action Plan for Northern Bald Ibis conservation."Thorough discussions on potential for supplementation of Northern Bald Ibis from other colonies were conducted, and risks involved were elaborated," said Dr Akram Eissa Darwish, Chairman of the Syrian Society for the Conservation of Wildlife. "Participants concluded that this is an urgently needed step, provided that experts offer their technical knowledge and apply the suitable methodology. The final decision from participants was to establish a captive breeding colony at Palmyra, to act as a ready-established option for supplementation, and to promote ecotourism in the area."

Chris Bowden of the RSPB explained that captive breeding was a last resort, as there is no guarantee of success following a total breeding failure at the colony in the past year. 'If fewer than two pairs attempt to breed next year, we will hit the emergency button. The Birecik birds are genetically similar, and so are the obvious source for supplementation."Juvenile birds would be taken from Birecik to form a captive breeding colony, using adapted compounds that were previously used for captive breeding of Arabian Oryx (a Critically Endangered species of antelope). The project will draw on expertise from around the world, including Doga Dernegi (BirdLife in Turkey), and the Konrad Lorenz Forschungsstelle in GrĂ¼nau, Austria, where a semi-wild colony has been established.

"On the face of it, it seems straightforward to do, but the birds are socially particularly complex, and there are risks of disease. The project will require very careful implementation," Bowden added.

However, the Syrian government, local Bedouins, former hunters and others are firmly committed to the survival of the Palmyra colony.

"The workshop demonstrated the increased national and local sense of ownership of bird conservation. This is not always the easiest thing to achieve, and local stakeholders showed a keen interest to learn about where their birds go, and what others countries are doing, and to support international cooperation," said Eng. Ali Hamoud, Director General of the General Commission for the Management and Development of al-Badia.

4th July 2014