Bird Conservation International

Research Article

Contribution of research to conservation action for the Northern Bald Ibis Geronticus eremita in Morocco

Christopher G. R. Bowdena1 c1, Ken W. Smitha1, Mohammed El Bekkaya2, Widade Oubroua2, Ali Aghnaja2 and Maria Jimenez-Armestoa3

a1 Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, The Lodge, Sandy, Beds SG19 2DL, U.K.

a2 Parc National Souss-Massa, Eaux et Forets, BP107, Inezgane, Agadir, Morocco

a3 Sociedad Espaniola de Ornitologia (SEO/BirdLife), Melquides Biencinto 34, ES-28053, Spain

Abstract

The Northern Bald Ibis or Waldrapp Geronticus eremita is a species of arid semi-deserts and steppes, which was formerly widely distributed as a breeding bird across North Africa, the Middle East and the European Alps. Just over 100 breeding pairs now remain in the wild at two sites in Morocco whilst two further wild pairs remain in Syria. There is also a population in Turkey, which is maintained for part of the year in captivity, and a large captive population in zoos. The species is classified by IUCN as ‘Critically Endangered’, the highest threat category. The wild population has grown during the past decade, which represents the first evidence of population growth in the species' recorded history. Conservation action in Morocco has contributed to this recovery. A large part of the contribution of research to conservation action has been to establish and document the value of simple site and species protection. Quantitative assessments of the importance of sites for breeding, roosting and foraging have helped to prevent disturbance and the loss of sites to mass-tourism development. Wardening by members of the local community have reduced disturbance by local people and others and increased the perceived value of the birds. Monitoring has suggested additional ways to improve the breeding status of the species, including the provision of drinking water and removal and deterrence of predators and competitors. These actions have been evaluated by subsequent testing. Steppe and two-year fallows were shown to be the key feeding habitats, and maintaining such non-intensive land uses in future may present major management challenges. The recovery in the Souss-Massa region remains precarious because the population is concentrated in a few places where adverse changes are possible. However, it could provide opportunities for natural extension of the range to formerly occupied sites further north in Morocco.

Correspondence:

c1 Corresponding author; e-mail: chris.bowden@rspb.org.uk