The fledging of three chicks born to a wild pair of crested ibis on Sado Island in Niigata Prefecture earlier this month represents a significant step in the government's program to revive a species that went extinct in Japan and to reintroduce the bird into the natural environment. The revival of the crested ibis, known by the scientific name of Nipponia Nippon and called "toki" in Japanese, has a symbolic meaning for Japan's nature-conservation efforts since the large bird with light pink wings was once an integral part the nation's rural landscape. We hope the chicks will grow strong and produce offspring.
The crested ibis existed in such great numbers during the Edo Period that farmers considered them to be pests because of the damage they caused their rice paddies. But when the nation began to modernize in the late 19th century and hunting was permitted, the birds were indiscriminately targeted for their meat and feathers. The government responded to their dwindling numbers by designating the crested ibis as a "natural monument" under the Law on Protection of Cultural Properties in 1934, and upgraded the status to a "special natural monument" in 1952 in view of the growing risk of extinction. On the initiative of the International Conference on Bird Preservation, the crested ibis was declared in 1960 as an internationally protected bird.
But the government's protection efforts were too little, too late. Although areas were established where hunting was banned, no restrictions were imposed on development projects around the birds' habitats. Conservation efforts by residents in Sado and in the Noto Peninsula, Ishikawa Prefecture — the two remaining main habitats of the crested ibis in this country — failed to stem the decline in their numbers.