A rare bird may possibly be wiped out the face of the Earth after the Islamic State took over the ancient town of Palmyra in Syria.
Three nearly extinct northern bald ibises were being held in captivity but the whereabouts of the birds are currently unknown after their caretakers were forced to flee the town following the attack of Isis militants on May 20.
A fourth female bird is also currently being searched for. The bird, named Zenobia, is crucial to the survival of the species. The Society for the Protection of Animals in Lebanon claimed that Zenobia is the only bird in the species that know the winter migration route of ibises to Ethiopia.
Without her, the birds that were kept in captivity could not be released as they could go extinct in the wild. A $1,000 reward is now being offered for those who could provide information that could lead to the bird's location.
"Culture and nature they go hand in hand, and war stops, but nobody can bring back a species from extinction," said Asaad Serhal, the head of the society.
The northern bald ibis is extremely rare. The bird is in fact considered extinct until a small colony of seven birds was discovered close to Palmyra in 2002. Although the birds were placed in captivity for protection, the number of ibises continued to drop. The remaining number of birds is now down to four.
The fall of Palmyra occurred just days after IS captured Ramadi in Iraq. The IS already destroyed a number of sites in the country including the ancient city of Nimrud, which is considered as one of the country's greatest archaeological treasures.
The northern ibis became extinct in Europe three centuries ago because of loss of habitat, hunting and pesticide use. The bird now has a very small population with more than 95 percent of the truly wild birds concentrated in one Moroccan sub-population. The wild population in Syria also dramatically dwindled in the past three decades. The bird population in Syria is notably distinct from the one in Morocco.
"Since the beginning of the 20th century, however, the species has been known from two disjunct populations: a western population in Morocco and an eastern population in Turkey and Syria," reads the Birdlife International website. "Despite scientific efforts to establish a European colony, the bird is currently listed as critically endangered. "
Photo: Roberto Verzo | Flickr