Some faint hope for Zenobia, the Syrian ibis
|Zenobia, queen of the ibis colony in Syria|
Zenobia was the only Northern Bald Ibis to make it back to the breeding grounds in the desert near Palmyra after their annual winter migration to the Ethiopian highlands (the whole, sad story in Zenobia, Last Ibis in Syria).
It had started out so well.
Right on schedule, Zenobia flew off with her mate, Odeinat, the one and only hope for her to continue the dynasty:
|Taking flight after tagging|
After which he went radio silent. Zenobia returned to Palmyra alone and no other birds followed her home. Since no sole bird, not even a queen, can breed by herself, the Syrian branch of ibises -- once numbered in the thousands -- moved from Red-List Endangered (the highest level of threat) to the edge of Extinction.
On the Brink
That didn't stop Zenobia, however. According to her satellite transmitter, in autumn she set off again to fly to Ethiopia for her winter break -- which meant crossing seven countries and flying over 6,000 kilometres (3,800 miles) to the Ethiopian highlands.
But was she alone?
Or did some Turkish ibis fly with her?
A Turk in Time?
In July 2013, six birds from the semi-wild Northern Bald Ibis population at Birecik, Turkey were released in a trial re-introduction to nature. Three were fitted with satellite transmitters and ringed. Four of the birds were juveniles, and two were one-year-old birds. The hope was that the gang of six would survive and migrate.
For the first two weeks, the birds remained very close to their home breeding station. However, excitement mounted as five of the birds departed south, and the intriguing news was that they had stopped off very close to Palmyra in mid-August, where the remaining wild population was now just the one individual, our intrepid Zenobia.
What happened next is unknown. The war had spread to Palmyra, making it almost impossible for the Syrian team of Bird-Life International to continue field checks at the ibis breeding site in the desert.
A Flutter of Hope
|Ibis grabbing tasty scorpion prey by its sting|
If so, they should be returning to Palmyra any day now.
Keep your fingers crossed for Zenobia, that rarest of rare birds and last queen of the colony at Palmyra.
Sources: We have been following Zenobia's story from March 2007 (Zenobia's Triumphant Return to Palmyra) with further hopeful flights of Latest News in 2011 and 2012, only to be grounded in 2013 with Zenobia, Last Ibis in Syria
Top: Zenobia the ibis, during satellite tagging at Palmyra in 2006. Photo courtesy of G. Serra (via NATGEO News Watch)
Upper left: Conservation officer, Adel Abouajaja, releasing Nader (meaning 'rare'), at the Northern Bald Ibis Conservation Project in Morocco. Photo Credit: Víctor García Matarranz (via SEO/Grepom).
Lower left: Northern Bald Ibis. Photo credit: Brian Stone (via SEO/BirdLife).
Bottom: Ibis catching scorpion by its sting. Undoubtedly this is a skill learned when they’re young, demonstrating the importance of learning in these birds. Photo Credit: Víctor García Matarranz (via SEO/Grepom).