Northern Bald Ibis, Geronticus eremita, is currently listed as Critically Endangered under criterion C2a(ii) on the basis that the species has undergone a long-term decline and now has an extremely small population, with >95% of wild birds in one subpopulation (BirdLife International 2017). This subpopulation is located in Souss-Massa National Park and Tamri, Morocco, where the population numbered 59 pairs in 1998 after 40 individuals died mysteriously in 1996 (Bowden 1998, Touti et al. 1999), but this has increased and is now relatively stable, with 116 breeding pairs present in 2015 (Latifa et al. 2016, Oubrou and El Bekkay 2015). A semi-wild population exists in Turkey, but because this population is managed and not truly wild, they are not included in an assessment of this species’s status. A tiny colony of 7 individuals was discovered at Palmyra, Syria in 2002 (Serra et al. 2004), but this subpopulation has dwindled with only one individual returning to the colony in 2013 and 2014; and no individuals in 2015 (Serra 2015), although since then one individual has been reported in Ethiopia which likely represents an individual that has migrated from Syria (C. Bowden pers. comm. 2017). The current situation in Syria makes monitoring very difficult, but it is likely that it is now extinct as a breeding species there (BirdLife International 2017). Re-introductions of this species have occurred in the Alps and Spain, with the latter holding a small number of independent, breeding individuals. Therefore, despite the decline in Syria, thanks to the growth and recent stability of the Moroccan subpopulation and the potential presence of a second wild population in Spain, the species likely no longer qualifies as Critically Endangered.
Focussing on Morocco, the main threats to the species there are illegal building and disturbance close to breeding cliffs and changes in farming on the feeding grounds. A proposed tourist development at the Souss-Massa National Park could also prove detrimental to the birds if it is not constructed in a sensitive way (Anon. 2009), though the most recent causes of breeding failure at this site have been loss of eggs to predators and, more importantly, poor chick survival as a result of starvation and predation (Bowden et al. 2003). Despite the presence of these potential threats around the Moroccan subpopulation, the number of breeding pairs has remained stable over recent years and the total number of individuals continues to grow (443 individuals at the end of 2013 breeding season [Oubrou and El Bekkay 2013]; 524 individuals in 2014 [Oubrou and El Bekkay 2014]; and 580 individuals at the end of the 2015 breeding season [Oubrou and El Bekkay 2015]). The most recent population size estimate (referring to the number of mature, breeding individuals) is 116 breeding pairs, which equates to 232 mature individuals.
There are two introduced populations in the Alps, totalling 30 individuals, in Burghausen (Germany) and Salzburg (Austria) (Wald 2014). These birds have undertaken human-led migration to Orbetello Lagoon in Tuscany, Italy and in 2011 the first bird independently migrated from Italy to Burghausen (Waldrappteam 2014a). A further colony is to be established at Uberlingen (Germany) (Waldrappteam 2014b). However, because of the continued management of these populations, they are not included as part of this assessment. With continued success and removal of management they may be included in future assessments.
The reintroduced population in southern Spain is more independent, and potentially could be included in an assessment of this species’s status. This population was set up to be more sedentary than the Alpine re-introductions, although interestingly individuals from this population have been observed crossing into Morocco (Muñoz and Ramírez 2017). A total of 190 birds were released in southern Spain between 2004 and 2009 (Boehm and Bowden 2010), and population supplementation continues (C. Bowden in litt. 2016). Although juvenile mortality has been high, the first breeding pair was formed on nearby cliffs in 2008, and a small independent non-migratory colony is now becoming well established in the area (Matheu et al. 2014). Up to a total of 24 breeding adults were present in 2013 on three separate cliffs (Jordano and Márquez 2013) and 25 breeding pairs were present in 2014 (UvA Bird Tracking System undated).
This equates to 50 mature individuals, which (combined with the Moroccan population) would give a global population size estimate of 282 mature individuals. However, given that the establishment of the wild, breeding population in Spain is only very recent, it is suggested that the global population size be conservatively retained in the range of 200-249 mature individuals. Therefore, it is proposed that the species be listed as Endangered under criterion D.
We welcome any comments or further information regarding this proposed downlisting.
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