NIIGATA — Aggressiveness is all you need to triumph in unrequited love.
You You, a male crested ibis, seems to be trying to prove this theory to Yang Yang, his roommate at a conservation center on Sado Island. It’s apparently working.
“When You You tried to mount Yang Yang in an attempt to mate with her last month, she kicked him,” said Masaharu Ono, who heads Niigata Prefecture’s wildlife protection division.
But when You You tried again several times this month, she held still for a while, Ono said.
The pair of endangered birds, whose scientific name is Nipponia nippon, were gifts from Chinese President Jiang Zemin to the Emperor, promised during his visit to Tokyo in November.
Officials are desperate to pair the birds at the Crested Ibis Conservation Center in the village of Niibo on the island, where they were brought at the end of January. Japan has only one known crested ibis left.
Kin turned 32 years old this spring while in captivity at the center. Her age is said to be the equivalent of more than 100 in human terms.
Relations between You You and Yang Yang are therefore a subject of much excitement. “The pair’s feathers have turned from pure white to gray, a sign that they are ready for the mating season,” Ono said.
During this season, usually around March and April, a grayish secretion emerges from the back of the birds’ necks. As they rub their necks with their beaks, the secretion spreads throughout the body, smearing white feathers with gray.
Ono said the pair have touched beaks and carried twigs to their shared nest. These are considered signs that they are ready to mate.
Because officials at the center do not want to disturb them during the mating season, tourists can only glimpse the precious birds through a television monitor.
Despite concerted efforts, however, the center has failed to successfully breed ibises.
In 1985, the center borrowed a male ibis from China, hoping it would breed with Kin. When this did not work out, the center sent its last-remaining male ibis, Midori, to China to breed with a bird there. Though two eggs were laid, neither hatched.
In 1994, Long Long and Feng Feng were brought from China for a temporary stay to breed at the center. Three months after arriving, however, Long Long, the male, died. The center then tried to mate Feng Feng with Midori. Five eggs were laid, but, again, none hatched.
Midori died a few months later, leaving Kin the only recognized crested ibis in Japan after Feng Feng was returned to China in 1995. “We believe the line of the crested ibis should not be cut off,” Ono said. “But these matters sometimes take time, so we must be in no hurry.”
Though crested ibises were found nationwide until the early 19th century, their numbers rapidly fell after they became common hunting game early in the Meiji Era. “People were using the feathers for decoration,” Ono said, showing a photograph of a sword with the bird’s pinkish feathers wrapped around the hilt with a string.
Hunting and environmental degradation led to the species’ recognition as endangered in 1934, when it was designated a natural treasure.
In 1952, the government listed it as a special natural treasure, followed by its designation as an internationally protected bird in 1960.