As an environmentalist I feel as though I am continually reading and hearing ‘bad news’ environmental stories (particularly about China!), which over time can erode at the optimism and hope we need to be effective. After all, historically it has been optimists that have changed the world, certainly not pessimists. So I thought in this blog, I would share with you a local good news environmental story. It’s about the Crested Ibis (Nipponia nippon).
The Crested Ibis is a beautiful, large, white-plumaged ibis of pine forests, formally found throughout Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Russia and much of China However, by the 1960s and 1970s it was believed to be extinct, with no sightings of the bird for many years. This concerned numerous Chinese scientists, and as a result, the Forestry Protection Department of the Chinese Government assembled a team, led by Liu Yinzheng. This team spent years searching ideal Crested Ibis habitat throughout China. In 1981, their hard work payed off when Liu Yinzheng and his team arrived in Yangxian, the county closest to Changqing Reserve, and the location of Changqing Reserve Administrative Bureau’s main office. Here he and the team found seven remaining Crested Ibis individuals. While extremely exciting, with only seven individuals discovered, their job was still far from complete.
Immediately following the discovery, the team reported the details to the Chinese Government who issued a protection over the birds and their habitat. Ding Changqing, a scientist also working for the Forestry Protection Department, was sent to Yangxian shortly after the discovery and set about studying and monitoring the birds to learn more about their behaviour, breeding patterns and how they could be conserved. In 1983 the Crested Ibis Research Centre was established in Yangxian. An extensive captive breeding program, using both artificial and natural incubation, was established at this centre, and was highly successful. In addition to the captive breeding program, breeding was also encouraged and monitored in the wild. Today it is estimated that some 700 or more Crested Ibis individuals are located in the wild.
In Changqing National Nature Reserve, and the town of Huayang, there are believed to be over 40 Crested Ibis’s. In 2003/04, after bird flu concerns, 12 birds were released in the wild here. They have been breeding well, and last year one of our staff (Zhang Yongwen) identified approximately 10 chicks during breeding season. With a nesting tree located not far from my office, on some mornings or evenings I have the pleasure of hearing their distinctive ‘honking’ sound, and run outside to see them fly overhead ready to roost.
The Crested Ibis Research Centre received National Grade protection in 2005, and remains active today.