What we do
A relict population of three pairs of Northern Bald Ibis was discovered near Palmyra, Syria in 2002. This migratory colony remains on the brink of extinction despite intensive protection work. RSPB’s programme in Syria also encompasses work on Sociable Lapwing and building conservation capacity of Government and NGOs.
RSPB started to support conservation work in Syria as a result of the rediscovery of a relict population of Northern Bald Ibis near Palmyra in 2002, the last wild population of the species in the Middle East. Since the population is migratory this has also involved work elsewhere, notably Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. In addition Syria is an important migratory area for populations of Sociable Lapwing and birds include a further three endangered species – Egyptian Vulture, Saker Falcon and White headed duck – eight vulnerable species and eight near threatened species.
Syria has made recent strides in conservation although there are still no national parks and limited conservation infrastructure, little awareness among the population and an active hunting community. There are opportunities to make a wider impact on conservation in the country.
Until now most of the work on Bald Ibis has been undertaken with the Syrian Government, partly because they have management responsibilities, very skilled staff and have been highly welcoming and collaborative. However they also have good relations with a young, growing NGO the Syrian Society for Conservation of Wildlife, and we are also working to strengthen the capacity of this NGO to work on Bald Ibis and the many other pressing conservation challenges.
Current RSPB involvement includes:
We have supported (along with birdlife Middle East and IUCN) a protection programme whereby the Ibis population has been protected by a 24 hour guard comprising local Bedouin and wardens on secondment from the nearby desert reserve.
The Syrian government authorities led by the desert Commission have been extremely supportive of and proactive in efforts to conserve the Ibis and a protected area has been created around the breeding colony. However further awareness raising is essential both in Palmyra and Damsacus to generate a sense of national pride in the birds, so that there is political support for the programme at the highest levels.
In the six years since the birds were discovered most resources have been placed on protection activities. However we have undertaken studies on feeding ecology to better understand the use of different areas and habitat preferences. This has been essential in guiding management decisions and in influencing development in the surrounding area e.g. a highly collaborative programme of work with Petro-Canada in relation to their exploration of gas fields in the region.
After discovering the wintering grounds of the adults, we continue to attempt to place additional satellite tags on fledgling or immature birds. This may require research and conservation intervention in other countries outside of Syria although at present the birds appear safe in Ethiopia and knowledge of migration remains too poor to enable meaningful interventions. However, conservationists, especially in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabla and Yemen, have been proactive in searching for ibis and visiting birds identified by satellite tracking.
BirdLife has formed an association with the Syrian Society for Conservation of Wildlife (SSCW), a fledgling NGO based in Damascus. RSPB are working to support their institutional development as the NGO movement expands in Syria. We will also assist the development of skills and training among local government staff involved in the Ibis programme including appropriate personal assistance, training and exchange visits.
The focus of this work is on Northern Bald Ibis and to a lesser extent Sociable lapwing and other threatened species.
Chris BowdenInternational Species Recovery Officer / Head of Vulture ProgrammeE-mail: email@example.com
Syrian Government – Desert Commission
Syrian Government – Ministry of Environment
BirdLife Middle East
IUCN – Middle East Region
Syrian Society for Conservation of Wildlife
Doga Dernegi (Birdlife in Turkey)
Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society