• Kyodo

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A breeding center of oriental white stocks said Thursday it will release five captive-bred birds into the wild on Sept. 24, more than three decades after the last wild bird died in Japan.

The two males and three females, aged between 2 and 7, have been bred in the 165-hectare Hyogo Prefectural Homeland for the oriental white stork, center officials said.

The park, located in Toyooka, initially chose eight birds to release from the more than 100 oriental white storks bred at the facility.

Since September 2003, the eight have lived apart from the other birds so they could learn to feed themselves and fly long distances to prepare for life in the wild.

The park eventually narrowed the group down to five birds based on their abilities to adapt and test results that checked for potential genetic problems if they interbred.

The park plans to release another four birds, including a pair with “high breeding potential,” as part of a five-year project to release white oriental storks into the wild.

Starting with six birds donated by the Soviet Union in 1985, a group of 118 oriental white storks has been bred.

At one time the migratory birds could be seen in many parts of Japan, but their numbers began decreasing in the 19th and 20th centuries due to hunting and environmental disruption.

The central government designated the birds a specially protected species in 1956, but the country’s last wild oriental white stork died in Toyooka in 1971.

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