Fall of Palmyra Could Make Bald Ibis Extinct

Fall of Palmyra Could Make Bald Ibis ExtinctFall of Palmyra Could Make Bald Ibis Extinct

A rare bird may become extinct in Syria because of the capture of Palmyra by IS terrorists, experts say, according to the BBC.

A tiny breeding colony of the northern bald ibis - a critically endangered species - was found near the city in 2002. Only one female returned from the wintering grounds in spring 2013.

Three further birds held in captivity were abandoned last week after their Bedouin guards fled the fighting. Their fate is unknown.

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon has offered a reward of $1,000 (£646) for information on the whereabouts of Zenobia (named after the queen of Palmyra), the only remaining bird who knows the migration routes to wintering grounds in Ethiopia. Without her, birds bred in captivity cannot learn the migration routes and the species could go extinct in the wild in Syria, say ornithologists.

"Culture and nature, they go hand in hand, and war stops, but nobody can bring back a species from extinction," Asaad Serhal, head of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon, told the BBC.

For several decades the species was thought to be extinct in the Middle East until seven birds were found nesting near Palmyra more than 10 years ago.

Despite being protected, and breeding, their numbers dwindled to just four wild birds by 2012.

A tagging project in 2006 discovered that the birds from the Syrian colony were wintering in Ethiopia. But it was unclear what was happening to the fledgling or immature birds.

Bald ibis were originally widespread across Europe, Africa and the Middle East, but due to hunting, habitat loss and pesticide poisoning, they underwent dramatic population declines and are now only found in Morocco and Syria.

These two populations are incredibly small, with the Moroccan population being unusual for the species in that they are not migratory, spending all year at the same site in the Atlas Mountains.