Japan’s rarest bird, the iconic Japanese Crested Ibis (Nipponia nippon) or Toki, is set to make a comeback, thanks to a sustained effort by conservationists.
The ibis became extinct in Japan 26 years ago when the last pair vanished on Sado Island. In 1998 the China donated a pair to Japan for a breeding programme, aimed at eventual reintroduction. The Ibis Conservation Centre, on Sado Island, now has 107 birds and the first steps for their release are being taken.
Not only must the birds be prepared for a life in the wild, but sufficient suitable habitat must be made available for them. To help with this, the Japanese Government is offering rice farmers subsidies if they fill their rice paddies with water in winter or turn fields fallow, to provide feeding grounds for the ibises.
Five birds, three males and two females, born last year, are being housed in special acclimatisation cages that will help prepare them for a life of freedom. Techniques used to successfully reintroduce Oriental White Storks to the wild are being used. Ten more chicks, born this year, will also be trained and 10 birds will finally be released next autumn. The Centre aims for 60 ibises to be established in the wild by 2015.