Once revered by the Egyptian Pharaohs, the Northern bald ibis (Geronticus eremita) has become extinct in most of its former range in North Africa, the European Alps and the Middle East and is now listed as Critically Endangered (CR). Globally, fewer than 500 individuals of these birds remain in the wild. The species has been driven to near extinction by a combination of threats including human persecution, loss of steppe and extensive farmland, pesticide poisoning, human disturbance and development. The Northern bald ibis once had an extensive breeding range stretching from Turkey through the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa to Morocco, and was even known to breed in parts of central Europe. It is now breeding at only two sites in south west Morocco, one site in Syria – perhaps it is no longer there – and, in a semi-wild state, one site in Turkey.
In Turkey, the Northern bald ibis population declined from about 600 pairs in the early 1950s to 130 pairs in 1962 as a result of the extensive use of DDT to kill mosquitoes. No offspring were produced until 1972, and in 1973 there were only 26 pairs in a single colony at Birecik in south-eastern Turkey. In the 1980s, the Turkish National Park Service decided to stop the decline of the Ibis by taking all surviving birds into semi-captivity. Two large aviaries were built to house these birds in winter. Each year, they are caught in July and kept in this Interpretation Center until March, when they are released to breed in the natural habitat that surrounds them. Birecik is the only place for the semi-wild Bald ibis population since the wild population declined to extinction in 1989.
In 2003, the population fell to 25 and Doğa signed a protocol with Nature Conservation and National Parks General Directorate to protect the species. Studies of conservation measures have been done with the aim of increasing the breeding success of Bald ibis. Conservation efforts have given good results and the number of Bald ibis has increased to nearly 200 in 2015.
Doğa has been monitoring the species in and around Birecik to ensure the species lives in a natural environment and manages to migrate. Doğa also conducts research in foraging habitats. Bald ibis’ success in re-adopting to a natural life cycle depends on the conservation of its habitats in Birecik and its surroundings. Doğa detailed these activities in conjunction with Nature Conservation and the National Parks. Doğa was also involved in the development of an interpretation and education center for visitors for the species.
The satellite tracking of juvenile birds in autumn 2008 showed that this population retains its migratory instinct, with birds being tracked to Syria and Jordan. This knowledge has built hope that the migratory eastern population can be re-established. These preliminary release trials of satellite-tracked birds have shown very promising results for the potential re-establishment of a fully wild population in Turkey.