Red List: Northern Bald Ibis, Pink Pigeon making a comeback
Once down to just 10 individuals in the wild, Pink Pigeon populations are now stabilizing, and Northern Bald Ibis numbers are on the rise, according to BirdLife’s latest assessment of the extinction risk of the world’s birds.
Once down to just 59 pairs in the wild, the Northern Bald Ibis population is now recovering thanks to conservation action. Following BirdLife International’s latest assessment of the extinction risk of the world’s birds (as part of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species), the Northern Bald Ibis has moved from being Critically Endangered — the highest threat category —to Endangered.
Once widespread across North Africa, the Middle East and Southern Europe, habitat loss, pesticides and hunting drove the Northern Bald Ibis Geronticus eremita down to a small and dwindling population, mainly confined to just one breeding colony in Souss-Massa National Park, Morocco.
It was clear that conservationists needed to act fast. Birdlife, working alongside organisations such as GREPOM (BirdLife’s Moroccan Partner), employed local fishermen as wardens to protect breeding ibises from human disturbance and predators. Thanks to this and further conservation measures, the Northern Bald Ibis’ population has risen to a modern-day record of 147 breeding pairs, which in 2017 spread to two new sites. While the Endangered listing shows that the ibis’ future is far from secure, it also demonstrates that concerted conservation efforts can, and do, work.
“This year’s list shows that given sufficient resources and political will, species can recover and habitats can be restored,” says Melanie Heath, BirdLife’s Director of Science, Policy and Information Management. “However, still more concerted effort is required to reverse the downward trends of our planet’s most threatened bird species. Governments have a particular responsibility to implement policies that scale up existing successes and achieve environmentally sustainable development.”
The success of the Pink Pigeon Nesoenas mayeri also demonstrates the power of conservation. Native to Mauritius (the island where the Dodo met its demise), habitat loss and the introduction of invasive species such as the Black Rat had driven the pigeon’s population down to just 10 wild individuals by 1990. A decade later, captive breeding programmes, combined with intensive conservation in the field, had raised that number to 300, and the species was moved from Critically Endangered to Endangered. Now, with a stable wild population of 400 individuals, the Pink Pigeon can be categorized as Vulnerable.
However, the news is not all good. In Southeast Asia, for example, seven hornbill species have been uplisted to higher threat categories, largely due to deforestation. Hunting is an additional threat: larger species, such as the Great Hornbill Buceros bicornis and the Rhinoceros Hornbill Buceros rhinoceros, are often shot when mistaken for the Helmeted Hornbill Rhinoplax vigil (already Critically Endangered since 2015), whose unique solid red casque is highly desired on the black market.
The songbird trade is also having a profound impact on Southeast Asia’s birds. Birdsong competitions, which offer large monetary prizes, have led to the trapping of many species, including the Straw-headed Bulbul Pycnonotus zeylanicus, which this year has been uplisted from Endangered to Critically Endangered. Additionally, deforestation has made it easier for trappers to reach birds due to the proliferation of logging roads and the lack of dense forest available as a safe refuge.
“Targeted action can help species to recover,” says Dr. Stuart Butchart, BirdLife International’s Chief Scientist. “But the overall trends are negative, showing that much greater efforts are needed to replicate such successes more widely.”
Overall, BirdLife’s assessment for the Red List shows that while conservation actions can and do work, action is needed on a much larger scale if we are to reverse the consistent decline of species we are seeing around the world.