24 Nov 2017
It has had a dramatic history and was almost lost to extinction. Now this Critically Endangered bird is bouncing back with record breeding success in Morocco in 2017.
By Shaun Hurrell
As the day drew to a close, the orange light reflecting from the Atlantic seemed to soften the texture of the sun-baked Moroccan cliffs so much so they looked like they could crumble in an instant. There the birds were: perched on a couple of sloping, sandstone ledges, an entire colony of about 20 settling in for the night, low squawks and rustles heard above the scouring waves only a few metres below. Birds often nest in precarious places, and despite the cliffs in Tamri, southwest Morocco, actually being pretty strong, by knowing this species’ Critically Endangered status, you cannot help but feel a little worried for these large, iridescent-black creatures.
Throughout history, Northern Bald Ibis Geronticus eremita has had a turbulent relationship with humans. This mythical bald bird with a punkish crest once had an extensive range that spread across North Africa, the Middle East and Europe, and has been idolised by humans as symbols of fertility and virtue, even mummified to accompany Ancient Egyptian royalty.
Today, almost all remaining wild birds are restricted to Morocco
Yet it has lost its feeding areas to land-use changes, its nest sites have been built on or disturbed, and it has also been poisoned by pesticides, hunted, persecuted, collected in a gold rush for museums, and a dramatic range-reduction resulted in an all-time population low at the end of the 20th century with only 59 breeding pairs remaining in 1997. Today, almost all remaining wild birds are restricted to Morocco.