Hunt on for last of rare birds after ISIS invasion of Palmyra

25 May 2015

The capture of the Syrian city of Palmyra by ISIS fighters is inadvertently threatening the existence of the northern bald ibis, with a hunt now on to find the last of four known migrators to exist.

The city has recently fallen into the hands of the militant organisation as part of its latest territory grabs in both Syria and Iraq, but now its presence in Palmyra in particular threatens not only the people that live there but also the very existence of an entire species.

The very unique-looking northern bald ibis had only four known remaining members of the species in a breeding colony in the Syrian city, having been discovered by researchers back in 2002.

Since then, according to the BBC, the birds have been guarded by Syrian security personnel, but since the arrival of ISIS they have abandoned their post.

Zenobia or bust

Northern bald ibis in flight

Image of northern bald ibis in flight via gailhampshire/Flickr

While three of the four birds remain missing, there’s a pang of desperation in finding the remaining female northern bald ibis, called Zenobia, as she plays a crucial part in the entire species’ future reproduction.

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon are the group leading the charge for its defence, offering a US$1,000 reward for her return. It says that Zenobia is the only bird of the species that knows the bird’s migration route to Ethiopia.

Without her lead, the remaining birds won’t be able make it to their breeding grounds during winter in the African nation.

The head of the society Asaad Serhal said to the BBC of Zenobia’s plight: “Culture and nature they go hand in hand, and war stops, but nobody can bring back a species from extinction.”

Northern bald ibis image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic