From survival to revival, the return of crested ibises

XI’AN: From the world’s last seven to a global population of more than 5,000, China spent nearly 40 years bringing back crested ibis from the brink of extinction.
With its iconic red crest and face, as well as a long black beak and snow-white feathers, the crested ibis is known as the “Oriental Gem” or “Auspicious Bird” in China.
They were once widespread in East Asia and Siberia until in the 20th century when hunting, ecological destruction and increased human activities drove the birds to near extinction.
In 1981, the entire species around the world was down to the seven crested ibises which were found in Yangxian County, northwest China’s Shaanxi Province and deep in the Qinling Mountains, making Qinling, a natural boundary between China’s north and south, the “Noah’s Ark” of the wild bird.
“We felt both excited and pressured after the discovery,” said Lu Baozhong, then head of the protection team of the seven crested ibises. “Team members safeguarded the birds 24 hours a day, spreading butter on trees and installing protective devices to deal with their natural enemies such as snakes.”
Since 1981, the local government of Yangxian County has put forward four bans for the protection of the species, prohibiting activities including hunting in the bird’s living areas, cutting down trees where it nests, using chemical fertilizers and pesticides in its foraging areas and firing guns in its breeding areas.
The Chinese government arranged special funds to protect the habitat of crested ibis, sealing off mountains to facilitate afforestation in the bird’s living areas.
China started captive breeding of crested ibises in 1991 and had bred more than 400 birds in Shaanxi as of last year. Years of constant effort have yielded promising results. It is estimated that there are more than 5,000 crested ibises in the world now, and about half of them live in Shaanxi. The bird’s habitat in China has risen from less than 5 square km in 1981 to the current 15,000 square km. Since 2020, the Shaanxi Hanzhong Crested Ibis National Nature Reserve had rescued 158 sick or injured wild ibis, over 90 percent of which were newborn, in several cities of Shaanxi, the reserve said in July. The crested ibis population has expanded north of the Qinling Mountains, as local authorities released a total of 62 crested ibises in two batches in 2013 and 2015 in Shaanxi’s Tongchuan City which is in the north of Qinling.
The wild birds had built 13 nests in the region and a total of 85 crested ibises have been born since 2013 in Tongchuan, according to local authorities in April. “It is lucky that crested ibis, an ancient bird, is still flying around,” said Zan Linsen, head of the Shaanxi Academy of Forestry.
“The conservation story of crested ibis not only shows us the tenacity of ancient life but also the necessity and urgency of ecological environment protection and restoration,” Zan said.–Agencies