The "Bshar el Kh-ir" Project Ain Tijja-Mezguitem
© Munich Zoo
To breed and reintroduce northern bald ibises into their former range in Morocco
Until the 1940s, the Waldrapp ibis, Geronticus eremita, used to breed throughout Morocco, from the Anti-Atlas in the northeast to the High Atlas and the steep sandstone cliffs at the Atlantic coast in the south. At that time there were about 38 breeding colonies with a total of more than 1000 birds. The number of birds declined to 346 specimens in 1983, and reached an all-time low in 1998 with only 180 birds. The current number of about 300 birds all belong to the two remaining colonies in the region of Agadir.
Over the past 20 years, several organizations made efforts to prevent the Waldrapp ibis from extinction in the wild. In 1991, the Souss-Massa National Park south of Agadir was founded, in order to protect the remaining two breeding colonies at the Atlantic coast. Although some promising results have been achieved, the status of this non-migratory population is still extremely vulnerable. The porous sandstone of their breeding ledges is exposed to erosion, the feeding grounds suffer from several years of drought and extensive land utilization, which forces the birds to search for food in more distant areas. In their absence, eggs and chicks fall easy prey to predators like ravens, seagulls, cormorants, or falcons.
Members of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the wider WAZA-Network have more than 1200 Waldrapp ibises in their care.
In 1999, a co-operation agreement was signed by the Ministry of Forestry, a consortium of zoos from the German-speaking area and other stakeholders, with a view of establishing a breeding station at Ain Tijja-Mezguitem in the north-east of Morocco, maintaining and breeding of an ex situ ibis population at that station and eventually releasing ibises bred at the station and establishing an ibis population able to survive in its natural habitat. The station was built, and the first zoo-bred birds introduced, in the year 2000. A second import of zoo-bred birds as well as the construction of an information centre took place in 2004. After the birds' diet was changed in 2006, six pairs bred, and six offspring hatched from five nests and were successfully reared. In 2007 there were 19 birds (13 adults and 6 juveniles) in the aviary.
The project is well accepted by the local population as it supplies drinking water and provides working and educational opportunities. Bshar el Kh-ir could also become a major institution for research and implementation in the context of the Single Species Action Plan published by the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) in 2006. A return of waldrapp ibises to the wild will be considered only once the ex situ population has reached a certain size, all requirements are met and the Moroccan authorities in collaboration with the national and international scientific institutions involved have given their consent.
WAZA Conservation Project 04013 is operated jointly under a MOU concluded between the Moroccan Ministry of Forestry, the Waldrapp Working Group consisting of the zoos of Munich (Tierpark Hellabrunn), Vienna, Berlin-Tierpark, Nuremberg, Rabat and Bern, the local conservation society of Tazekka (ATED) the company HolCim Maroc and the Council of Mezguitem.
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