Mideast diplomacy benefits endangered bird

Associated Press / August 2, 2010

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The latest beneficiary of improved relations between Turkey and Syria is the rare northern bald ibis.

In recent years, conservationists have watched in dismay as the numbers of the critically endangered northern bald ibis in a Syrian colony dwindled to just four birds. Extinction seemed almost guaranteed until late June, when neighboring Turkey agreed to donate two juvenile and four adult birds to Syria.

The complicated transfer was finalized when Syria’s first lady, Asma Assad, contacted the Turkish prime minister’s wife, Emine Erdogan.

“I think it’s an illustration of warming relations at a high level in the interest of conservation,’’ said Chris Bowden, chairman of International Advisory Group for the northern bald ibis.

The bird that drew the two nations closer is a strange-looking one, with a red, curved beak, bald head, shaggy black crest and long, skinny legs. It was once commonplace across North Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Europe, and centuries ago was so revered by the pharaohs that it had its own hieroglyphic symbol, said Bowden. But habitat loss and hunting have devastated the population in recent decades.

Now, there are colonies of 450 birds in Morocco and about 100 in Turkey.

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