Sado, an island in the Sea of Japan, was the last remaining habitat in Japan. In 1967, the Sado Japanese Crested Ibis Conservation Center was established in the village of Niibo-mura, to protect and propagate the bird. In 1981, the last five wild birds were captured and placed with a captive one named Kin, for artificial breeding. Unfortunately, no chicks were hatched and the only Japanese toki remaining is Kin, now 35 years old and past the age to produce any young.
The good news is that toki were rediscovered in China, after it was thought they had become extinct there. The government of China protected the species by prohibiting tree cutting and pesticide use in the area, and succeeded in breeding the birds artificially. By July 2001, the population had rebounded, to about 155 toki in the wild and 175 in captivity.
In 1999, China gave Japan a pair named Youyou and Yangyang. They became the parents of Yuuyuu, Japan's first toki chick hatched by artificial incubation. The "birth" was cause for great celebration throughout Japan, and in no time, more and more people began supporting the campaign to bring toki back to the skies. Two more chicks were hatched in 2000, then 11 more, from two pairs, in 2001. At the time of this writing (September 2002), the toki population at the Center has risen to 25.
"We hope to have 100 birds in five years," says Chikatsuji Koki, who is in charge of the Center. "If they increase according to plan, our next step will be to develop a natural environment for them in the wild. Other organizations, at the national, prefectural and private levels, are also working hard toward this goal. We're really hoping that all these efforts will pay off."
But this goal is hard to achieve. Workers at the Center have no time to sit back and admire their success in artificial incubation and propagation. Many problems must be solved before the birds can be returned to the wild, including protecting them from natural enemies like marten and crows, developing feeding grounds, and getting them ready to fend for themselves.
The Ministry of the Environment launched a three-year model project to promote symbiotic relationships between humans and nature, and sustainable lifestyles at the local level. The project, which wraps up in 2002, promotes research into ways to return the toki to its natural habitat, and discussions among specialists, government representatives and local residents. Efforts aimed at releasing the birds into the wild will surely gain energy, and people are now more aware that too much development puts stress on natural habitats. When the environment recovers, Japanese people and the toki will once more live in harmony.
During the breeding season (February to July), feathers on the birds' heads, wings and back are dark gray.
Workers give chicks liquid food through a special device something like a needle-less syringe.