NIIGATA – A little more than a decade after the release of crested ibises back into the wild, the city of Sado and others are looking to the endangered birds as a possible tourism resource.
This year marks the 11th anniversary of the start of a project to release artificially bred crested ibises into the wild in the island city of Sado in Niigata Prefecture.
On the island, over 400 of the birds, which are designated as a special national natural treasure, are believed to be thriving in the wild, with many people reporting having spotted them feeding in rice paddies and elsewhere, according to city officials.
The Environment Ministry has set up an observation facility to watch the birds, with the roof area having been opened to the public.
While crested ibises once inhabited satoyama (village forests) throughout the country, the number of such birds rapidly declined due to overhunting and environmental pollution.
Although there were attempts to breed the birds, crested ibises born in the wild in Japan became extinct with the death of the last one in 2003.
In 2008, the ministry started releasing captive-bred crested ibises into the wild as part of a reintroduction program using birds donated by China.
Currently in Japan, there are 195 crested ibises living in rearing facilities and an estimated 405 in the wild.
Such conservation centers rearing the birds in Sado and Nagaoka, a city also in Niigata Prefecture, as well as those in Ishikawa and Shimane prefectures, are open to the public.
Still, most wild crested ibises in Japan live on Sado Island.
“People will be able to see crested ibises out in the wild in Sado,” an official with the Sado city government said.
The ministry has set some rules for viewing wild crested ibises, including a request that people do not disturb the them in the wild. The rules also cover people viewing the birds from their cars.
The Sado government in October 2018 also opened an area near a location frequently visited by the crested ibises where people can view them.
“Quite a lot of people, ranging from families and couples to the elderly, have visited” the area, an official with the city government said.
As for the ministry’s observation facility, it is some 10 meters tall, and visitors are able to appreciate crested ibises and the island’s nature from the rooftop.
The ministry plans to set up an exhibition room on the second floor to provide information on the ecology of crested ibises and the efforts to ensure they can coexist with people.
As the building is already completed, the ministry has opened the rooftop to the public until the exhibition room is finished.
“Amid an increase in the number of wild crested ibises, I hope that (the facility) plays a role in helping (the public) observe (the birds) without affecting their ability to thrive,” said Hiroaki Sawaguri, the chief park ranger at the ministry.