The Syrian population of northern bald ibises is teetering on the edge of oblivion. In fact, the whole species is Critically Endangered - one step away from extinction. In 2002, the Syrian population stood at seven birds. But despite extensive protection in Syria, numbers are down to three this year.
But help is at hand - the Turkish Government has donated six ibises to join the Syrian colony, two of which have been released this year.
And to learn more about these enigmatic birds, we'll be following the migration of two of the Turkish ibises and three of the ibises from Syria. You can follow their progress on this map.
We hoped the Turkish ibises would join the wild Syrian birds on their migration and become part of the colony. The Syrian General Commission for Al Badia Management has also built aviaries, where some of the Turkish ibises will be kept for breeding to bolster the colony's numbers by releasing their offspring in future years.
We've already found out that the adult ibises travel to Ethiopia for the winter, but we're not totally sure where the youngsters go. A team of biologists is also attempting to find the birds on the ground, to record details of their habitat and make sure that no illegal hunting takes place.
Hunting and other pressures away from the breeding grounds seems to have been the cause of decline. So satellite tracking the birds is a vital tool for learning how to help the northern bald ibis - the only other wild population is 100 pairs in Morocco.
This international operation couldn't happen without with conservationists, governments, researchers, funders and individuals all working together.
The dedicated field team from Saudi wildlife Commission and the Syrian GCB have now successfully seen all of the birds in the field in Saudi Arabia - they actually saw both Ishtar and Zenobia yesterday, (Ishtar was the only one they'd not caught up with until now), and this allows the gathering of important information about the feeding and roosting sites, and the assessment of any threats in these areas. None of the birds are apparently together now, although Zenobia was seen with her mate Odeinat last week.
Salama has been the most mobile lately, and after breaking ahead of the others to central Yemen over a week ago (as you may have noticed on the map?) she went back north to Saudi Arabia again for a few days, (after some very heavy rains in Yemen - but maybe she was looking for the others?), but then recently returned alone to the same area in Yemen, before heading further south yesterday - perhaps to cross the Red Sea? Whether the Turkish juveniles will rejoin the adults? will they also go to Yemen? or even further? Keep watching for updates... we are all learning from this...!
We've just confirmed the news that Ameer has been found in Saudi Arabia by the field team in a weak condition and sadly died after a few hours. Ameer was the wild offspring of Odeinat and Zenobia, but was apparently being fed only irregularly just before fledging, was distinctly underweight and actually taken into care for a few days before being released again together with the two Turkish juveniles (Ishtar and Amina). We were worried whether it would be ok, but after the early departure on migration (with Salama and the two Turkish juveniles) and successfully flying so far south so quickly, we were hopeful it would survive... We now await the autopsy results for further information and clues.
interestingly, Salama (the female that orginally led the 3 juveniles south and then went ahead into Yemen) has overtaken the other two adults (Odeinat and Zenobia), but then went back noth (!) in to Saudi Arabia again... meanwhile the other birds are all separate now, apart from Odeinat and untagged Zenobia.