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ROK to get gift of rare winged angels
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A pair of crested ibis, one of the world's most endangered bird species, is expected to arrive in the Republic of Korea (ROK) from China in two months, leading ROK newspaper JoongAng Daily has reported.

A crested ibis is seen here in this undated photo. [file]

A crested ibis is seen here in this undated photo. [File Photo]

The gift is in line with an offer from President Hu Jintao to his ROK counterpart Lee Myung-bak, during Lee's visit to China in May.

The white-feathered, red-faced crested ibis has always endeared itself to the people of the ROK, where children's songs have been dedicated to the species.

However, none of the birds have been spotted on the Korean Peninsula since 1979.

The pair set for the ROK is scheduled to receive "red carpet" treatment on their private plane to their new home, the JoongAng Daily reported.

Luxuries include hemp cushion-lined, ventilated wooden boxes that protect the birds from the disturbance of noise and light during their 2,300 km flight.

Their trip will cost about 70 million won (US$64,800), the paper reported.

The two ibises will be housed in the breeding center in the ROK's Changnyeong county in southern Gyeongsang province, where wetlands have been restored to serve as the birds' habitat.

Nearby farm houses in the county have reportedly been relocated, with local farmers being asked to limit the amount of pesticide used in nearby areas.

"I haven't been sleeping well these days because I'm so worried. If the birds die during the shipping process, it will be a disgrace to us," Kim Chung-sik, governor of Changnyeong county, told the newspaper.

Once found widely in China, Japan, Russia and the Korean Peninsula, the crested ibis was presumed to have become extinct until 1981, when seven of the birds were found in China's Shaanxi province.

Bird experts believe that the disruption of the food chain and the dramatic loss of habitat are major reasons why the birds have been almost brought to the brink of extinction.

"The use of pesticides has caused the death of a large amount of aquatic insects, which is the major food source for the ibis," said Ding Changqing, an ornithologist with the zoology institute of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

"Deforestation and artificial drainage of wetlands have also resulted in the massive loss of habitat for the birds," he added.

The birds were saved from the verge of extinction with the rediscovery of the seven ibises in China in 1981. But conservation efforts proved to be extremely difficult initially, experts said.

"At first, we didn't know how to feed the newly hatched chicks," Ding said. "Adult ibises that were raised artificially were also believed to have lost the ability to feed their own young."

A breakthrough came in 1999, helping Chinese experts to master artificially breeding the birds, Ding said. The number of ibises exceeded 1,000 by the end of last year.

Reintroducing the birds back to the wild is one of the challenges facing conservation efforts, scientists have said.

"To release the birds back to their natural habitat and to establish a wild population are the key priorities of current conservation efforts," Ding said.

Similarly, China and Japan have in recent years been working closely to protect the birds.

China in 1999 gave its first ibis pair, You You and Yang Yang, to Japan. At that time, only one Japanese-born ibis was left and it was too old to reproduce.

The crested ibises from China have reportedly helped bring back the birds from extinction in Japan, where there are currently more than 100 crested ibises in captivity. Japan is also reportedly planning to release a number of the birds back into the wild.

(China Daily August 26, 2008)

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