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Emergency plan for the Syrian population Imprimer Envoyer


November 2009 – October 2010

  1. 1. Background

 Radio-tracking of tagged ibises from eastern range during period 2006-09 (n=4) + observation of a yearling in Djibouti in January 2008 + radio-tracking of Turkish young in 2008 and 2009 have clearly shown that:

-        adults and juvenile ibises migrate and winter separately

-        adults and subadult ibises can start migration together and then split later.

 Historical data collated by Welch and Welch (2004) + radio-tracking of Odeinat in 2009 + Djibouti observation in Jan 2008 suggest a likely scenario where young ibises disperse around the southern Red Sea basin and along the Rift valley in Eastern Africa for 2-3 years before returning to their birth place in Palmyra (homing), once they are close to sexual maturation. Only after they finally breed in Palmyra they might start following their partner to the already known wintering site on the Ethiopian highlands.

 A mounting body of evidences is showing that the most severe threat to the survival of this colony is the high mortality rates of young and adult birds due to hunting within Syria and Saudi Arabia – while Yemen, Eritrea and Sudan still have to be assessed in these regards (Ethiopia seem fine).

 In general terms, a very high rate of failures of migratory returns by adult birds have been observed during period 2003-09 in Palmyra: out of 7 migratory returns to Palmyra, 6 times at least one adult failed to return, about one each year. Not to mention juvenile/young ibises: out of 24 juvenile which left Palmyra during 2002-07 only 4-7 have made a come back. Most compelling specific evidences of high mortality rates due to hunting in Syria and Saudi Arabia are:

-        killing of a breeding adult in July 2003 at breeding grounds in Palmyra, Syria

-        failure of migratory return of a breeding adult (the partner of tagged female Salam) in March 2007 – the bird had been observed at Ethiopian wintering site in November 2006

-        failure of migratory return of a breeding adult (Scheisch) to Palmyra in February 2009 together with his partner - in late January 2009 it was observed still alive at Ethiopian wintering site

-        evidence of killing of a tagged subadult bird (Julia) during her first day of southward migration in 2009, at an agriculture farm in northern Saudi Arabia

-        probable killing of Turkish tagged young in August 2009 in northern Saudi Arabia.

By making good use of satellite locations of 4 tagged ibises during period 2006-09, the key nodal sites of the migratory route have been identified and ranked according to their importance (Serra et al. in prepar.).

  1. 2. Problem statement

 If the trend of breeding failure in Palmyra and mortality rates during migration is not reverted starting from early 2010, the ibis colony of Palmyra will vanish completely during the next 1-2 years

  1. 3. Objectives and activities

 It is recommended to give priority to following emergency objectives during next 12 months:

Objective 1: ensuring good breeding in Syria in next years, starting from 2010

Activity 1.1: endorsing recommendations included in Standard NBI Protection Program in Palmyra, recently prepared for the benefit of local authorities 

Activity 1.2: fix ibis nests according to L. Peske advise

Activity 1.3: finding out causes of high chick mortality in 2009: following up post mortem analysis done at Hama University by expert IAGNBI ibis veterinary

Activity 1.4: fund raising for technical assistance of ibis breeding protection in 2010

Objective 2: ensuring supplementation in Palmyra is carried out in 2010

Activity 2.1: renewed diplomatic efforts are carried out in Turkey to assist DD in overcoming the bureaucratic empasse

Activity 2.2: implementing training of selected Al Talila staff in Austria in ibis husbandry

Activity 2.3: fund raise to implement supplementation in 2010

Objective 3: minimizing uncontrolled hunting in Syria and Saudi Arabia at identified known nodal points of migration route

Activity 3.1: fund raising and implementing an emergency awareness raising at most dangerous sites along the migratory route before next spring migration in February 2010.

Note: focusing on survival of adults during migration is the only chance we have at this stage, as it would be unrealistic to attempt promoting conservation of young ibises due to their probable nomadic and quite unpredictable behaviour – not to mention that, because of the recent 2 breeding failures, very few young ibises are expected to be still alive and likely to make a come back in the next years to Palmyra.

Standard Ibis Protection Protcol for Syria Imprimer Envoyer



1. Period of operation: from 1 February to 30 July, every year

2. Staff needed







Trained national veterinarian better if assisted by experienced international ornithologist


Scientific coordination and supervision




Trained ranger with proven experience in ibis protection


Protection, monitoring and data collection, supervision of Bedouin guards, assistance of ornithologists




Bedouin local guard

3 (1 in Gattar, 1 in Mayuf, 1 in Mazrur Dreila)

Protection and monitoring

3. Equipment needed

* two 4x4 vehicles (+ maintenance and fuel)
* four high-quality telescopes
* ten high-quality binoculars
* three tents and accessories

4. General recommendations

4.1. It is recommended to not underestimate the level of specialized protection efforts needed by ibises during the period from February to July, which is crucial to ensure a smooth breeding: namely, the quality of the protection effort depends on the scientific coordination, the number, the role and the level of training and experience of rangers involved; and by the number and role of the Bedouin guards.

 4.2. It is highly recommended to use as a model the successful protection programs taken place during breeding years 2002-04 and 2006-07. These 5 successful protection programs were based on three levels: strong field scientific coordination, at least 2 trained and experienced rangers and at least 4 Bedouin guards helping the rangers.

4.3. It is recommended to not underestimate the importance of the level of experience of the rangers involved in the protection program: for instance, by 2007 the 2 local rangers mentioned above had accumulated a significant amount of experience (5 years of training and on-the-job experience), and, despite in that year the scientific coordination was quite low, they were able to detect the raven threat on time and to control it successfully during the critical time.

4.4. It is recommended to not overlook the level of motivation of rangers required: this is another critical issue, as working intensively in the desert under difficult climate conditions, whole day, every day including week ends, certainly requires a genuine passion and interest. This specific factor, not easy to be assessed objectively was not used in the analysis shown in Annex 12: it would have certainly made the correlation between the breeding success and the protection effort even stronger and more significant. Considering the sheer amount of overtime work needed, an incentive integrating their normal salary is recommended, at least for rangers, guards and drivers involved in field operations.

4.5 Enabling and authorizing the rangers to drive the vehicles by their own, without driver, makes the protection program more efficient: in fact it is not easy to find a driver motivated enough to work many hours every day and to wake up very early and go back home very late. Also this arrangement would enable rangers to be sufficiently flexible as this is an important requirement of their work.

4.6 Rangers should be carefully coordinated and supervised by the scientific coordinator and supervisor. Rangers should always consult the scientific coordinator before taking decisions which are not related to routine and already agreed activities. Bedouin guards should be coordinated and supervised by rangers.

4.7 Rangers should collect standard data on data sheets prepared and explained to them by the scientific coordinator, and they should avoid taking informal notes by their own.

4.8 Rangers should make sure that a minimum number of people and vehicles is present at the guard tent in front of the nesting cliff in order to avoid noise and disturbance, especially when birds are using the pasture around the tent and the ponds for drinking.

4.9 Coordination with military should be sought during the periods that birds use the area of Rkheime, which is in March and in June-July.


5. Specific recommendations in relation to threats

Based on past experience, the 4 most dangerous threats negatively affecting the ibis breeding performance are the following (in order of importance):

I.    Depredation by ravens and vultures during the first 15 days when chicks are left alone in nests by parents. This threat usually materializes some 2-3 weeks after hatching, tipically in the month of May. The scientitic coordinator should discuss with rangers how to control ravens and Egyptian Vultures around the ibis nesting cliffs early in the season, preferably before ibis return (before mid February). If this is not possible, a dawn-to-sunset ibis nest guarding should be arranged on time for the duration of 15 days from the very first day that chicks are left alone. This requires attention, preparation and readiness. Three motivated guards, covering shifts of 5 hours each, should observe the nests at a distance not less than 300 m, and use a whistle to scare any bird predator approaching the nest. Risk of depredation seems more severe in Gattar than in Mayuf. The two breeding failures, taken place in 2005 and 2008 in Gattar, were likely due to raven depredation of chicks.

IIa. Human disturbance around nests during nest selection and building during incubation and at chick fleging time. This problem usually takes place from the time of ibis return in February until mid June. No person - visitors and local staff -  should get closer than 300 m to the ibis nesting cliff during this period: better would be 500 m. Any visitor should ask authorization from the scientific coordinator and should be accompanied and monitored by trained rangers. Groups should not exceed 10 persons at a time. It is also important that rangers and guards should always ask permission to scientific coordinator in order to get closer than 300 m from the nesting cliff. No exceptions should be made for photographers, video amateurs and media.

IIb. Hunting at ibis feeding grounds and at reservoirs which are used by ibises for drinking (February-July). The most vulnerable feeding site, due to its remoteness, is that of Mazrur Dreile (Shna’a). A guard should be hired on time, early in the season, in order to stay permanently at the site from March until July. Artificial ponds close to nesting cliff should be arranged before bird arrival early in the season, for the drinking of ibises, in order to prevent them to search water at unkonw and unprotected locations. One adult breeding ibis was killed by foreign poachers at the reservoir of Shna’a in 2003. If birds use the reservoir of Shna’a (or Slem) for feeding, a local guard should be hired to protect the site.

  1. III. Human disturbance at feeding grounds (February-July). Nobody should get closer than 300 m from the feeding birds. Any visitor should ask authorization from the scientific coordinator and should be accompanied and monitored by trained rangers. Groups should not exceed 10 persons at a time. No exceptions should be made for photographers, video amateurs and media.
Syria 2002-2009 Imprimer Envoyer


coop-ital FAO

Project FAO/DGCS Italian Cooperation project (GCP/SYR/009/ITA), based in the millenary oasis of Palmyra, in operation between 1996 and 2004, was aimed at assisting the Syrian Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform (MAAR) in initiating biodiversity conservation in the country through development of the first operational protected area (al Talila), steppe habitat rehabilitation and raising the ecological awareness locally.

During period 2000-04, a wildlife team composed by trainees from the local community and from MAAR staff, lead by biologist Dr Gianluca Serra, was established with the aim of detecting and documenting the key naturalistic and biodiversity assets of the central Syrian desert – through carrying out a long-term fauna and reconnaissance survey. This baseline information was deemed as important in order to develop the al Talila protected area in terms of management and ecotourism potential.

A number of new and interesting fauna species were detected and discovered by the wildlife team, like for instance:
  • 1 new species of beetle (Coleoptera, Aphodidae) (Della Casa, in prepar.)
  • 1 new butterfly record Papilio demoleus (Beniamini et al. 2007)
  • 1 new snake record (Black Cobra Walterinnesia aegyptia: Sindaco et al. 2006)
  • 9 globally threatened bird species and 21 potential new bird records for Syria (Serra et al. 2005 a & b)
  • 2 new mammal records (Serra et al. 2007).

The surveying efforts culminated in the discovery in April 2002 of a surviving relict colony of Northern Bald Ibis (NBI) Geronticus eremita (Serra 2003), quoted by BirdLife International as “arguably the most significant orthithological discovery in the last 30 years anywhere in the Middle East” (Bowden et al., 2002). This extensive desert survey also paved the road  to another ornithological discovery of international relevance, taken place in eastern Syria in February 2007 (Murdoch and Serra 2006): the long-sought staging grounds of the Critically Endangered Sociable Lapwing (Vanellus gregarius), eventually found by a Dutch-Syrian team leaded by Remco Hofland (see related BirdLife International news).

While enthusiastically leading the above mentioned long-term fauna survey, day by day, G. Serra was able to build the naturalistic & conservation capacity of some selected local people (MAAR staff, hunters and indigenous pastoralists). By “infecting” them with the germ of the passion for nature, the ecological awareness and naturalistic appreciation of these people has flourished and raised significantly: slowly they started to realize that they were becoming the first Syrian trained and certified conservationists and eco-guides - and that also the responsibility on their shoulders was growing…
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