Chinese scientists have succeeded in making a pair of white ibises adopt a newborn crested ibis, in what they believe is the first successful such adoption in the world.
The scientists put a crested ibis egg in the white ibis nest about three months ago in Beijing Zoo, and the baby ibis hatched after 30 days, the Beijing Morning Post reported.
At almost eight weeks old, the little bird is in a sound condition and scientists hope its "parents" will teach it how to adapt to wild life.
"The successful experiment offers a new way of saving the endangered specie," Ding Changqing, an expert from Chinese Academy of Sciences, was quoted as saying.
The population of crested ibis in the wild is expected to be restored within five years, a prospect which once was considered impossible, the newspaper said.
Crested ibis is distinguished by its red crest, gray plumage and hooked beak. Being one of the most endangered bird species, only seven crested ibises were found in northwest China's Shaanxi Province in 1981.
At present the number of crested ibises has reached 400 thanks to the efforts of Chinese scientists over the past two decades.
All the ibises existing in the world belong to non-migratory type. The migratory ibises have been extinct.
As most of the 400 ibises live in a small area of Yangxian County in Shaanxi Province, the species would be exposed to great danger if any disaster occurred in the vicinity.
Worried that they might have all their eggs in one basket, Chinese scientists began to study how to protect the rare birds in different places in 1986.
However the problem of how to bring the artificially bred birds back to nature remains unsolved.
The latest experiment in the Beijing Zoo makes it possible to re-establish a new ibis community in the area where wild ibises formerly lived.
"That will be the best result we can expect in protecting endangered animals," said Ding.
Chinese researchers planned to have crested ibises hatched by wild white ibises in the Zhalong Nature Reserve in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province next year.
The origin of the endangered species can be traced back over 60 million years ago, with large flocks formerly existing in most parts of China, Japan and Germany. Today the species can only be found in China.
(Xinhua News Agency July 30, 2002)