Protecting the Northern Bald Ibis in Morocco

Morocco is the last fully wild refuge of the critically endangered northern bald ibis in the world. These strange-looking birds are best known from North Africa and the Middle East; but their range also extended north into Europe. As human populations grew, over utilization as a food source was the primary cause for the dramatic reduction in their numbers in many countries.

The northern bald ibis is not shy by nature and tends to breed on small cliffs, often close to populated areas. Comparatively easy access to its breeding sites has probably contributed to their diminished numbers.

Protected areas that were historically named by kings, archdukes and princes did little to stop the birds ending up on people’s dinner tables. In former times these large birds were hailed as a delicacy.

The northern bald ibis has a wingspan of 130 cm, which is the same as the European spoonbill. Males and females differ in size but not in appearance: the males are slightly larger, which is directly clear when they’re spied nesting. The birds build their nests in March using twigs and leaves. They breed just once a year, from March to June, lay 2-4 eggs and both parents take it in turns to incubate them.

ZEISS has joined forces with BirdLife International and the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation to support the project which is having great success protecting nesting sites in the Souss Massa national park on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, just south of Agadir. Today, the expanding population in Morocco that is protected by BirdLife’s Moroccan Partner GREPOM in conjunction with National Park Guards, provides great hope for the future of the species.

This is a promising figure already and now, some new small nesting colonies have been found a little way from the two main colonies too.

However, the current expansion is not just restricted to the availability of suitable nesting ledges on different undisturbed cliffs, but also in protecting suitable adjacent habitats in which the birds can forage.

In 2018, at least 250 adult birds will be able to nest there.

The ibises don’t just need protected nest sites, they also need a large undisturbed area, free from pesticides, where they can find a good supply of suitable food for their young.
While the birds inside the national park are protected, their safety cannot be guaranteed once they leave the area.

Northern bald ibis spread out after the nesting season, sometimes travelling long distances to reach rich feeding grounds. In particular, young birds that travel furthest, can head to unprotected areas where they can fall victim to a range of threats including electrocution, illegal hunting and poisoning etc.

For this reason, efforts are also being made to; raise awareness about the birds threatened status, the need to reduce disturbance at their nesting areas and protect their feeding habitat and explain this to people throughout their Moroccan range.


Dr. Gerold Dobler

Dr. Gerold Dobler is a passionate birder and ZEISS product specialist.