Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Birdhouse in your Waldrapp

I had hoped that a trip to the Cleveland Zoo this last weekend with Miladyofthelake1 would prove fruitful, and, in fact, it did. Along with the Cinereous Vulture (near threatened—does that count?) and the Lappet-Faced Vulture (vulnerable), I found the Waldrapp Ibis (Geronticus eremita), which I think looks far more sinister than either of those adorably fuzzy carrion-eaters2.

Image from Me
Image by me

Yes, I said ibis, which most of you will associate with the American White Ibis or the Scarlet Ibis, which are much too bright and pretty. The Waldrapp Ibis (or Northern Bald Ibis, or Hermit Ibis) is oil-sheen black with a featherless head and a scraggly mane of black feathers that give it a buzzard look that no respectable shorebird should ever hope for. Not that the Waldrapp Ibis is really a shorebird, aside from being so phylogenetically. It lives in the grassy steppes of Morocco, Syria, and Turkey, as opposed to the marshes that its cousins inhabit. It still exhibits the same eating habits of other ibises by probing the mud (or dirt) for insects and lizards, and when the opportunity arises, small mammals. Completely shunning the aquatic lifestyle, they nest on cliff faces.

So why is it that these poor birds are critically endangered, and confined to three small areas, when it once roamed through all of Northern Africa, Central Europe, and the Middle East? It could be hunting, or nest site disturbances, or habitat loss. The insecticide DDT used in Turkey in the 1950s certainly didn’t help3, but they might be dying out due to natural causes. And these are suggestions from just one source. In other words, people do not know the exact reason why the Waldrapp Ibis is endangered.

Not that that’s stopping them from trying to help them out. Most zoos that house these ibises (and there are more of them in zoos than in the wild) are part of a Species Survival Plan, whose goal it is to breed animals in captivity to be released into the wild. Once there, the Waldrapp Ibis is protected by programs that are growing around them to see that they are undisturbed and happy.

1I have to thank her for editing most of the posts so graciously since, oh, about the lamprey post in late September. If you can read this without asking yourself, “What is he talking about?” thank her.
2I also found the Sturgeon Catfish, which is ugly enough to cause me to chastise myself for being disappointed that it’s not endangered. I have to keep reminding myself that I should not wish those sorts of things on an animal just so I can write about it.
3It has a tendency to wander up the food chain and kill whatever’s at top, cf. bald eagles in the United States.


Professor Buckeye said...

This most recent ugly thing, Geronticus Eremita almost surely means Old Man hermit, if Geronticus comes from the Greek root I think it does. (Eremita is proper Latin, dixit my dictionary)

I only find this strange because it is a social species according to the ARKive.


Anonymous said...

Hey, I ran across a possible candidate for inclusion: the Zombie Worm:

"Adrian Glover and Thomas Dahlgren tell the [BBC] journal the new species has been named Osedax mucofloris, which literally means "bone-eating snot-flower"." -

--How cool is that?!
(but not sure of endangered status...)