The Ministry of the Environment confirmed yesterday that for the first time in 36 years, a pair of Japanese Crested Ibis or toki, a bird so emblematically Japanese its scientific name is Nipponia nippon, had produced a hatchling. The news was so important NHK (and I suppose the other networks as well) flashed a Breaking News chyron across the top of a regularly scheduled program (in NHK's case is was during the atrocious Taiga Drama series on Taira Kiyomori, which is so boring the icky sadaijin on helpless handsome heishi sex scenes almost come as a relief) to pass on the announcement.
The Japanese population of toki went extinct, done in by the industrial polution from Japan's rapid industrialization period, the use of DDT to control mosquitoes, herbicides used to boost the productivity of rice paddies and the paving over of natural flowing streams and estuaries. The last of its kind, a female named Kin, died in captivity at the immense age of 36 years in 2003. ( J)
However, a tiny population of toki was still hanging on in China's Shaanxi province. In an exemplary display of bilateral cooperation (now extended trilaterally, with the inclusion of South Korea, where a captive breeding program has been established) scientists from both countries have cooperated on bringing the bird back from the edge and out of caged environments, first in China and more recently in Japan. It has been indeed also an example of region-to-region cooperation, with Japan's toki population kept in captivity and released on the island of Sado, where Japan's wild toki population made its last stand. The toki breeding center has been one of the means of drawing tourists to remote Sado, one of the former places of exile for those who would lose out in medieval period power struggles whose otherwise scenic shorelines and fishing villages were long ago ruined by the Tanaka family.
The recovery and release program has suffered some terrible setbacks of late. In March of 2010, a Japanese marten (Ten - Martes melanpus ) found a small hole in a group pen at the Sado center and in a few seconds of blinding carnage at a full run, killed 9 of the birds. Of the 78 of the long-lived birds released since 2008, 32 have either died or are missing and presumed dead, and none of the breeding pairs produced a hatchling. (J)
Until yesterday's confirmation.
Break out the sake.
Image courtesy: Ministry of the Environment, via News 47