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Japan and China signed an agreement Monday on long-term joint efforts to protect the crested ibis.

Government officials said the accord seeks to bolster exchanges, with the goal of releasing artificially bred ibises into the wild in Japan.

It is the first time the two countries have come up with a long-term, structured project focusing on the conservation of the crested ibis, which was designated internationally as a protected bird in 1960.

The birds are now only found in the wild in China.

China will provide Japan with new birds for breeding purposes, while Japan will support China’s conservation operations on a financial and technical basis.

The enhanced coordination will contribute significantly to avoiding inbreeding.

The crested ibis, whose scientific name is Nipponia Nippon, formerly inhabited extensive areas of East Asia but has almost been wiped out by hunting and environmental destruction.

Under the project, which will last until 2010, China will assist breeding efforts by exchanging ibises with Japan or by lending out its birds whenever necessary.

The Sado Japanese Crested Ibis Conservation Center on Sado Island in the Sea of Japan now has 39 ibises, three of which were sent from China and the others their descendants through artificial breeding.

There are concerns that inbreeding among the descendants will lead to deformities and reduce future breeding capabilities, thus affecting the birds’ return to the wild.

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