The resurrection of the toki, the authentic “phoenix” that Japan has recovered after years of native extinction

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In 2003 he died who was last crested ibis from Sado Island in Japan. Kin (“gold”), a female of this species known as toki in Japan, died at the not inconsiderable age of 36 years. Today some 500 specimens of these birds return to populate this Japanese island, thanks to the success of an ambitious conservation program that has reintroduced this bird from China to its country of origin.


The bird.
The existence of the crested ibis (nipponia nippon), Japanese ibis or, as it is known in its country of origin, toki, is documented since the year 720 in the Nihon shoki, the chronicles of Japan. The bird is just under a meter in size, and its most notable features are its light pink plumage and a thin, elongated, downward-curving bill. His head is red.

Chronicle of an extinction.
It is currently listed as endangered species, but it is an example of success in the conservation of species. This bird did not enjoy a good reputation among Japanese farmers for being detrimental to rice crops (both unpopularity and extreme popularity can be detrimental to speciesy). Despite this, the hunting laws in force in the Edo era of Japan (1603-1868) de facto protected these birds by restricting their hunting to certain social classes.

With the fall of the feudal structure of the shogunate and the industrialization of late nineteenth century they popularized the hunting of these birds, to the point that by the 1930s their numbers had dwindled to the dozens. Fertilizers were about to be the nail in the coffin for these birds. In 1981 there were only five specimens left, which were placed in captivity for their protection and to try to reproduce them.

The return of the phoenix.
Meanwhile, the species had not found a permanent refuge in mainland Asia either. The bird had given up for extinct in the area when also in 1981 a handful of wild tokis were found in northeastern China, in the province of Shaanxi. Chinese conservation efforts bore fruit and in a meeting in 1998 the then Chinese president Jiang Zemin promised his neighboring country a pair of these birds.

This pair arrived a year later, and other specimens followed. When these new tokis arrived on Sado Island, the elderly Kin was the last toki born in Japan. The birds that arrived on the island were kept in captivity during an acclimatization period, after which they were released. Day by day are already documented the first offspring born on the island in half a century. Behind the success in China and Japan, South Korea too hopes to be able to reintroduce this bird in its territory.

Convince the hesitant.
But import birds was not enough to keep the toki on Sado Islandit was also necessary to reduce the threats that stalked him, especially pesticides. An attempt was made to halve the use of these chemicals, which led to the initial rejection of many farmers in the area. The introduction of labeling standards and the policy of purchasing rice by the authorities from those farmers who comply with the regulations helped to implement this limit.

But ultimately the bird was the main incentive. “It was the tokis themselves” who convinced the farmers, explained Sinchiro Saito, a farmer from Sado Island, to AFP cameras. “[Los agricultores] they thought: ‘Toki came to my rice fields, so I should cultivate in a way that pleases them’ (…). He was like an environmental ambassador.”

Masaoki Tsuchiya.
Sado Island, located off the west coast of Japan, is the setting for the return of this bird to Japan. Masaoki Tsuchiya lives in it. At 72 years old, Tsuchiya has been going out in the morning in search of these birds for 14 years, in whose search he is already an expert. His son Tomoki, who works for the conservation of the toki, explained to AFP reporters that “for the people of Sado Island, the toki is a very important animal” and the possibility of his return has encouraged them to take better care of your own environment.

Image | Danielinblue/Wikimedia COmmons

In 2003 he died who was last crested ibis from Sado Island in Japan. Kin (“gold”), a female of this…

In 2003 he died who was last crested ibis from Sado Island in Japan. Kin (“gold”), a female of this…

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