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Des infos sur les Ibis chauves de Syrie (en anglais)

Envoyé par : peter (Adresse IP journalisée)
Date : lun. 4 novembre 2002 11:17:39


Voici un article tiré d'ArabicNews :

A relict breeding colony of critically endangered Bald Ibis (Geronticus
eremita), an insectivorous colonial cliff-nesting bird, was discovered
during the spring 2002 by UN-FAO project GCP/SYR/009/ITA within Al Badia.
The news has drawn the attention of conservationists and media world-wide.
This legendary and iconic bird is in fact also one of the rarest and most
critically endangered wildlife species on earth. It is listed since the
70s as "critically endangered on a global scale" according to The World
Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List. This means that the risk for this bird
to become extinct at any point in the future is extremely high. Just to
have and idea, the Bald Ibis global population dropped down to 97.8 %
during the period 1900 - 2002.

Arabic News ( met with Mahmoud Taher, the FAO
Representative in Syria on this important discovery.

On the FAO project in Palmyra and its objectives, Taher informed that
Palmyra project, based in the archeologically renown site in the middle of
the Syrian desertic steppe (Al Badia), has been implemented by the Food
and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), with funding
from the Italian Cooperation program, since 1996. The main goal of Palmyra
project was the assistance of Syrian authorities in implementing the
ecological rehabilitation of part of the Palmyra rangelands, and the
development of (Al Talila Reserve), the first Syrian protected area
accessible to visitors and managed according to international standards.

Since its inception, six years ago, the project has developed a model for
promoting biodiversity conservation in the country, through intensive
training of government staff, involvement of local community, promoting
programs for conservation education, and raising of public awareness. The
experience of this pioneer project (methods, practices and learned
lessons) will be extended in the future to other comparable locations in
Syria, within the framework of a national strategy of biodiversity

The main activities of the Wildlife Team of the Palmyra project include
intensive surveying, inventorying and photo-documenting of fauna occurring
within Al Talila Reserve and the surrounding Palmyra desert. This
contributed to the development of the reserve and to the production of
material required for conservation, education, and raising public

On Bald Ibis, Taher indicated that this bird is originally a waterbird
like all the other ibises (relatives of storks). However, the Bald Ibis,
during its "aberrant" evolution, has adapted to semi-arid habitats. This
bird, not exactly a champion of beauty (bald head with naked reddish face,
long straggly hind neck feathers, sturdy legs), has nonetheless always
fascinated man probably just due to its weird "look" and also to the
iridescent sheen on the wing. The scientific name of the bird, Geronticus
eremite, refers to its resemblance to an old man, bald and wrinkled, and
to the fact that it nests in remote places like a hermit.

Few avian species have as colorful a history and as uncertain future as
this bird. Before its discovery in Syria, the Bald Ibis was globally
regarded to still occur only in Morocco, with 2 resident colonies totaling
only 220 birds, and in the famous colony of Birecik, Turkey, along the
upper Euphrates, which numbered 1000-1300 birds during the 50s.

Unfortunately, the latter colony completely vanished in 1989, despite
considerable conservation efforts. In a long struggle during the period
1960-80s, the bald ibises of Birecik were backed to the wall by the
pressure of massive pesticides use (DDT) and the population growth in the

Despite having been one of the world's first officially protected animal
-- it was named in a decree by Archbishop Leonhard of Salzburg in 1504 --
the Bald Ibis disappeared from Central and Eastern Europe by the 17th
century, and thought to have become extinct after that. It was afterwards
spotted and "re-discovered" in the Middle East and North Africa during the
19-20th centuries by European travelers.

Two ornithological surveys done in 1910 and 1928 within Syrian Al Badia
resulted in the discovery of several major colonies, two of them the same
size of the one of Birecik, located within Qarietin and Palmyra
surroundings. These colonies were regarded as disappeared somewhere after
1929 and several authoritative ornithological surveys done from the 70s
through the 90s confirmed this.

However, due to sporadic sightings of ibises in Yemen (80's), Saudi
Arabia (90's) and Palestine (1995), there were rumors and suspects of a
small "undiscovered colony" still occurring somewhere within the Middle

During spring 2002, the Wildlife Team of the FAO project in Palmyra lead
by Mr. Gianluca Serra, met with around 70 Bedouins, nomadic shepherds, and
villages' hunters to dig into the memory of the local community, from
recent years back to the 30-40s. This kind of natural history
"archeological" work, combined with systematic searching within suitable
habitats, enabled the Wildlife Team of the project to unveil the presence
of Bald Ibis in Syria. This search eventually brought to the discovery of
a small relict breeding colony of Bald Ibis in April 2002 within Al Talila

Interestingly, the true story about the occurrence of the Bald Ibis
within Syrian Al Badia was "reconstructed." Not only had it never become
extinct within Al Badia, but its decline was actually significantly
delayed in time than reported in official scripts. Apparently, the Bald
Ibis used to be still common within Palmyra desert up to 20 years ago, and
even abundant up to 30 years ago, according to interviewed people from
local community.

Contrary to what was published early, elder Bedouins and Palmyra hunters
still use a specific local name for this bird "an-nuq." In other words, an
"early funeral" had been set up for Syrian bald ibises based on scant and
non-conclusive information. However, the seven Bald Ibis birds discovered
may well be the last "survivors" of what is called the Eastern population
of the Bald Ibis, distinct from the western population still occurring in

On the causes of Bald Ibis decline within Al Badia, Taher said that the
dramatic decline of the Bald Ibis within Al Badia, started 20-30 years ago
as reported by Bedouin herders and hunters today, well matches with the
timing of the starting of the unsustainable exploitation of rangelands and
consequent decline of the whole ecosystem productivity. In fact, the
Wildlife Team direct observations of bald ibises feeding during spring
2002 confirmed that they use the same rangelands where sheep are found.
While sheep feed on the grasses, bald ibises feed on invertebrates and
small reptiles found among vegetation. Thus differently from the Birecik's
colony, the disappearance of the Bald Ibis from Syria was most probably
due to habitat destruction and uncontrolled hunting, including chicks
capturing at nests for food.

We asked why these 7 last survivors are so important, Taher replied that
the difference between the present 60 Turkish semi-captive birds and the 7
Syrian wild ones is very simple but dramatically crucial: the Syrian ones
still know the migration route, while the Turkish ones, being all born in
captivity, have lost this cultural-transmitted knowledge. The fact is that
juvenile ibises learn the migration route from the adult individuals. In
other words, the 7 recently-found ibis "survivors" are unique and
invaluable from a genetically point of view. That's why, the three nests
have been guarded 24-hrs throughout the whole breeding cycle of about 14
weeks, in order to avoid killings by hunters and chicks capturing. Three
chicks have successfully fledged, out of three breeding pairs, after about
40 days from hatching.

The discovery of these last 7 individuals in Syria switch on again the
hopes of conservationists for saving the Eastern population of Bald
Ibises. Syria is thus suddenly entrusted with this remarkable
responsibility . Dealing with such a small number of individuals, caution
is a must, especially considering the negative experience of the
conservation efforts in Birecik.

The spreading of the news of this discovery have also a dangerous effect
among local hunters, who are starting to believe that the bird, being
rare, has a high commercial value. This might trigger deleterious hunting
efforts against these last surviving birds. It is thus very important to
deliver the message that this bird is very valuable only when alive and
wild in its habitat. There is already plenty of captive Bald Ibis in zoos
around the world kept in captivity or dead and stuffed.

When Taher was asked on the importance of this discovery to Syria, he
said that Bald Ibises are very important for Al Badia range-lands because
they feed on insects, scorpions and also snakes. The story of the dramatic
decline of the Bald Ibis is paradigmatically of the conservation status of
bio-diversity of Syrian Al Badia. All the bio-diversity of Syrian Badia
can be regarded as currently highly threatened, mainly due to
over-exploitation of natural resources and consequent destruction of
ecosystems and habitats, combined by a lack of ecological awareness of

Due to its singleness and international relevance, the Bald Ibis could
stimulate a sense of responsibility and proudness of Syrian people toward
their unique natural (and cultural) heritage. An-nuq could well become in
the future a symbol or messenger of a new-born awareness of Syrian people
about the need to protect their threatened flora and fauna.

Finally, we asked Taher about the international reaction to this
discovery. He replied that the news about this discovery spread out
quickly on international media and suddenly Syria became a new focus of
international conservation attention due to the worldwide interest in this

Last week a delegation from the "Birdlife International" and "Royal
Society for the Protection of Birds (RSP," two regional and
international NGOs leading conservation of birds and nature wildlife, were
received by Palmyra project and Ministries of Agriculture and Environment.
During this visit an action plan aimed at protecting the Bald Ibis was

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