Complementing the exquisite artwork that depicts each of the 50 subjects in the book, is a brief narrative that describes the uniqueness of each bird and its predicament. Poignant and relevant, informative but not complex, the narrative has been beautifully penned by Mark Cocker in collaboration with Dr Nigel Collar, Deputy Director of the International Council for Bird Preservation.
The Crested Ibis, like the Chinese Egret, is a species whose ill-fortunes have been closely linked to its extraordinarily beautiful appearance. Throughout much of the last century it was systematically hunted for its long white breeding plumes, which were used to decorate women's hats. As a consequence of this pressure, and the widespread destruction of forest and wetland habitats, the species declined to a population numbered in single figures.
It formerly occurred across south-east Siberia, in north-east China from Chejiang and south Shansi Provinces up to North Korea, and it was also once found widely in Japan. During the winter, the ibises migrated south to the island of Hainan off southern China, and to Taiwan, Korea and the Japanese islands of Ryukyu. This extensive range gradually contracted as hunting intensified and the region's enormous human population absorbed wetlands and forests for agricultural purposes. By 1917, it had ceased to breed in the USSR and it was thought to be extinct in China by the 1960s. Although it held out longer in Japan and, indeed, came to be known as the 'Japanese' Crested Ibis, its numbers there continued to dwindle. By 1976 the eight ibises held in captivity on Sado island seemed to represent the lion's share of the world population, and even these had consistently failed to breed.
Fortunately as the Japanese birds slid towards extinction a previously unknown population of Crested Ibis was discovered in China, in the Qinling Shan, in southern Shansi province, at the very edge of its former range. This population continued to expand until by 1988 there were 34 in the wild and a further six held in captivity. A gradual recovery has continued, although this has been adversely affected by crows and other predators that feed on the bird's eggs.
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