Endangered bird returns to South Korean wilds 40 years after going extinct

A crested ibis, which was bred in a restoration centre, flies as the bird is released into the wild of Upo wetland in Changnyeong, 350 kilometres southeast of Seoul, on May 22, 2019.
A crested ibis, which was bred in a restoration centre, flies as the bird is released into the wild of Upo wetland in Changnyeong, 350 kilometres southeast of Seoul, on May 22, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (AFP) - An endangered bird was reintroduced to the wild by South Korean authorities on Wednesday (May 22), four decades after it went extinct on the Korean peninsula.

The crested ibis was last seen in the wild in 1979 in the demilitarised zone dividing South Korea and North Korea.

China and Japan are also part of the species' natural range, but the bird was driven to the edge of extinction - partially because pesticide use eliminated its food sources - until captive breeding programmes were set up.

Starting with birds donated by Beijing, the South Korean captive-bred population has reached 363, and the Environment Ministry said 40 of them had been selected and released into the Upo wetlands about 350km south-east of Seoul.

The bird's Latin name is Nipponia nippon and it is also known as the Japanese crested ibis, but is best known in South Korea for a popular children's song composed in the 1920s, when the country was under Japanese colonial rule.

The song describes the sound of the bird's call as a sad reminder of a lost mother. It was banned by the Japanese authorities, who reportedly saw it as a form of anti-colonial resistance, but the song became popular again after the country regained its independence in 1945.