.  Geronticus eremita

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Common name:
English -
Northern Bald Ibis, Bald Ibis, Hermit Ibis, Waldrapp
French - Ibis Chauve
Spanish - Ibis Eremita

Geronticus eremita or Northern Bald Ibis is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) by the IUCN Red List 2008.

The northern bald ibis has undergone a long-term decline over the centuries and is today Critically Endangered. Adults have a bare head and neck, which are red in colour apart from a black crown. Blueish-purple feathers cover the rest of the body and are long and glossy with a metallic green hue. The upper wing-coverts are a glossy purple-red and the long curved beak is also red. Juveniles have a dark (although not glossy) appearance and have grey feathers on their heads.

It forages in large groups, preferring areas of semi-arid littoral steppe with very sparse vegetation, but also pastures and cultivated fields, feeding on any available animal-life; its favoured invertebrates are most abundant on the littoral steppe. It breeds colonially (up to 40 or more pairs) on cliff-ledges, the remaining colonies being all on seacliffs. In contrast with the now extinct populations in Turkey and elsewhere in Morocco, the birds are not migratory and present in Souss-Massa National Park throughout the year. Mortality during migration appears to be high among the Syrian birds; only one recruit joined the colony in 2004, out of 14 fledged and migrated juveniles. Breeding performance is highly variable from one year to the nextbut does not appear to be related to rainfall in the vicinity of the colonies as previously reported elsewhere. It is suggested that coastal fogs in the Souss-Massa region may buffer the adverse impacts of low rainfall and may in part account for the year-round residency of the birds. The Turkish population has been shown to be genetically distinct from the Moroccan population.

Until recently Geronticus eremita was believed to survive only in Morocco at Souss-Massa National Park (338 km2; three colonies) and at nearby Tamri (one colony, almost half the breeding population), with some movement of birds between these two sites. There are reports of it in Mauritania as a non-breeder. A colony of three pairs and one adult was recently discovered in Talila, Syria; and further breeding colonies may exist across the Syrian Steppe, although searches in 2003 proved fruitless. A further colony exists at Bireçik, Turkey, but is now heavily managed; with birds taken into captivity after the breeding season to prevent them from migrating. It is thought that birds used to winter in Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and perhaps Somalia, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, with the most recent wintering record being of three adults in February 1997 in the Massawa area of Eritrea. Post-1989 records in Saudi Arabia and Eritrea suggested that an undiscovered breeding colony remained in the Middle East, which has now been confirmed by the discoveries in Syria. In 1994, the Moroccan population was estimated at 300 individuals (59 breeding pairs). In 1998, it had declined to c.200 birds, following the mysterious death of 40 birds in 1996. In 1999, the population had increased slightly, and by 2006 there were around 277 adult birds, of which 102 pairs made nests (92 pairs laid eggs). Importantly, since 1980 there has been no overall decline in numbers at Souss-Massa NP. Growing numbers, and good productivity in recent years (over 500 birds in the Moroccan population after the breeding season in recent years) gives cause for optimism that former colonies may soon be recolonised. The Turkish population now numbers 86, and is expected to rise to 100 in 2006. The Syrian population has suffered a severe population decline in the past 30 years, and numbered just five adults in 2005. Captive bred populations exist at Grünau, Austria (22 birds, now breeding), and another is planned in Fagagna, Italy.

In Morocco in 2006, 102 pairs (ie 204 mature individuals) nested, out of 277 adults. After the breeding season the total number of birds may exceed 500 (C. Bowden in litt. 2006). Only five mature birds remained in Syria in 2006 (G. Serra in litt. 2006). The Turkish population now numbers 86, and is expected to rise to 100 in 2006 but these managed birds are excluded from the total estimate.

It has declined for several centuries perhaps at least partly owing to unidentified natural causes. However, the more recent rapid decline is undoubtedly the result of a combination of factors, significantly human persecution, especially hunting, but also the loss of steppe or unintensive agricultural areas (particularly in Morocco), pesticide poisoning, human disturbance, and dam construction. At Souss-Massa NP, the most recent causes of breeding failures have been loss of eggs to predators and, more importantly, poor chick survival as a result of starvation and predation.  

  Conservation Efforts  
CITES Appendix I. CMS Appendix I and II. Over 1,000 individuals of the western population exist in captivity worldwide, but birds from the eastern population are much rarer in captivity. In 1991, the Souss-Massa National Park was designated specifically to protect nesting and feeding areas. In 1994, a monitoring and research programme was set up involving local people. In 1998, an action plan was agreed and ecotourism and other sustainable development is being promoted. In 1999, an international advisory group IAGNBI was created to coordinate efforts and provide scientific advice. The Palmyra project in Syria has initiated a research and protection programme in collaboration with local communities, and aims to search further areas of the Syrian Steppe in the near future. Conservation action to date has focused on reducing the negative influences on breeding success but it is recognized that for such a long-lived bird adult survival is also likely to be an important limiting factor on the population size.