It was January 1981 and I can still remember the scene I saw on TV. Two cannon nets were launched and descended upon the last five Japanese Crested Ibises. It was part of a last resort to breed this species which was at the edge of extinction. And I can still recall how I was shocked at the scene, as I was an enthusiastic bird watcher and I thought I had missed the last chance to see the Japanese Crested Ibis in the wild. The breeding program did not succeed and the last bird in Japan died in October 2003.
However, later in 1981, we received good news that seven Japanese Crested Ibises, which were genetically identical to the ones in Japan, were found in You prefecture, Shaanxi Province of China. The Japanese Society for the Preservation of Birds started a joint research project with their Chinese counterparts with the financial assistance of Keidanren Nature Conservation Fund and the Japan Fund for the Global Environment. Fortunately, the result was very successful and the number of the birds reached 200 in 1999.
In 1999, China gave a pair of the birds to Japan and sent some breeding specialists of the Japanese Crested Ibis to heop with an artificial incubation and a hand rearing project. Now there are more than fifty birds in Japan. This is a striking achievement.
There are a lot of wild birds in Japan that are also present in neighboring countries. As 544 out of all 556 birds in Japan are also present in nearby countries, partnership with these countries is crucial to preserve them. Communication among researchers is a helpful asset. The exchange of research techniques and information benefits all involved. As a matter of fact, there are several joint projects currently in the field of conservation in operation between Japanese researchers and researchers of other countries. It will be also important to continue financial support of these operations to ensure continued success and the encouragement of new ventures.
However, though there is no border between countries for animals, there is for humans. China donated a pair of the Japanese Crested Ibis when the relationship between Japan and China was at its best. This occurred just after the first official visit of the Chinese head of state to Japan, which demonstrates the importance of politics to these kinds of multinational conservation projects. But, nature conservation is an urgent issue as many species are on the brink of extinction due to habitat loss, overexploitation, pollution, disease and other unknown reasons. More collaboration with all neighboring countries, therefore, should be encouraged.
Now, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel in terms of the future of the Japanese Crested Ibis. I thought that I had missed the last chance to see the Japanese Crested Ibis in the wild. As the project is nearing its completion with the release of the birds, I hope to be proved wrong.