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Chester Zoo birds to be reintroduced to the wild

Northern bald ibis chicks will be relocated to Spain

A bird species that was extinct in Europe for more than 300 years is to receive a welcome boost, thanks to the efforts of keepers at Chester Zoo who are releasing them back into the wild.

Four northern bald ibis chicks have been relocated to Jerez in southern Spain as part of an international conservation effort to tackle the drastic decline in numbers.

The birds will be kept in an aviary at the Spanish zoo until the end of November when they will get the best possible start in the wild. Before that they will be introduced to other chicks bred in other European zoos this year.

Bird keeper Lauren Hough explains what the breeding successes means to the team at Chester Zoo: “It’s amazing enough working with these remarkable birds in the zoo, but to be part of a successful reintroduction programme is something extra special.

“We hope that by reintroducing birds into the wild, they will go on to breed and boost the wild population themselves, securing the future of the species.

“The four chicks that hatched here at the zoo have done so well. We weighed them frequently to make sure they were getting enough food from their parents and, depending on what we found, we altered the number of times and the amount we fed the flock throughout the day.

"It’s a huge achievement to be able to release birds back into the wild and proves just how vital conservation projects can be for species facing huge threats, and possibly extinction.”

The northern bald ibis sits on the edge of extinction, with 98% of its population lost as a direct result of hunting, habitat loss, pesticide poisoning, disturbance and an increase in construction works around their preferred nesting sites.

The species, once widespread across the Middle East, North Africa and southern and central Europe is critically endangered with approximately 500 remaining in Morocco and a tiny population of only a few birds in Syria.

Northern bald ibis facts:

  • The scientific name for the bird species is Geronticus eremita, they are sometimes referred to as the ‘waldrapp’ ibis
  • They are listed as critically endangered according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) red list
  • The bird were once very common throughout Europe, Northern Africa and the Middle East
  • They vanished from Europe due to habitat loss and hunting of their chicks and eggs
  • They are also threatened by predators such as the brown-necked raven in Syria
  • Overgrazing and collecting of firewood have reduced habitat quality in the wild
  • They have undergone a long-term decline and now have an extremely small population
  • Over 95% of truly wild birds are located in one subpopulation in Morocco
  • Numbers are currently increasing due to management actions and breeding successes
  • The current populations are found in two areas - a western population in Morocco and an eastern population in Turkey and Syria
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