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Environment - Nature | Science - Education

Endangered Moroccan bird satellite tagged

Northern Bald Ibis:
«Many of the birds disappear for weeks at a time.»

© Sergio Tomey / BirdLife / afrol News
afrol News, 7 June
- The northern bald ibis is a critically endangered species, which used to live on all sides of the Mediterranean, is now defined to one breeding site in southern Morocco. Scientists and environmentalists now are to provide the birds with satellite tags to map their movements outside the breeding season, hoping to aid their survival.

Most of the world's northern bald ibis (Geronticus eremita) 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 the Spanish department of BirdLife - an organisation protecting birds - 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, BirdLife says in a press release today.

The northern bald ibis was once widespread across Northern Africa, the Middle East and even the Alps. By 1997 the bird's population had however fallen to fewer than 50 pairs, largely confined to coastal cliffs within the Souss-Massa National Park, near the coastal resort of Agadir in southern Morocco.

- This long-term decline has been driven by human disturbance and persecution, especially hunting, as well as habitat loss and pesticide poisoning, according to the BirdLife statement. The details behind this decline however remain unmapped.

The 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 UK branch of BirdLife.

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 BirdLife Spain.

The conservation efforts are showing results. While numbers of Northern Bald Ibises still remain critically low, the breeding population has now 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 researcher Ramón Marti of BirdLife Spain.

The new research project will change this. "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," explained Mr Marti.

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