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Rewilding of the Crested Ibis

According to Japanese records from the Edo period, the toki (Japanese crested ibis or nipponia nippon) could be found all over the country. Its natural habitat spread even to the Korean peninsula and the Chinese mainland. However, the toki`s population got decimated critically starting in the early 20th century and rapidly became so scarce from the 1930`s onward that at some point its habitat inside Japan became limited to Sado Island only.
Various factors contributed to the near-extinction of the toki.
Before the Meiji Restoration (1868), Japan was almost completely isolated from the rest of the colonizing and trade conducting world until it was forced by U.S. war ships to open up key ports for trade. This led to Western technology and thought etc. to stream into the country. Back then, the Japanese`s eating habits started to change from a rice, seafood, and soba-based diet to an increased demand for meat. Although it was not consumed on an everyday basis, the toki`s meat was considered a cold remedy and good for nutrition after childbirth. Additionally, the demand for feathers to use for bedding, crafts, brooms, arrows, and pseudo-bait for skipjack fishing increased sharply, as well. Since the toki is known for its beautiful pinkish orange feathers on the underside of its wings, the bird was overhunted. Despite several hunting regulations being imposed back then, the toki wasn`t included in the scope of protection. Perhaps, the bird`s reputation during the Edo period (when its population was still large) as a harmful bird that trampled over rice fields was also a factor. Moreover, rice paddies in mountainous areas, the bird`s preferred habitat, were disappearing and chemical pesticides got introduced in the 1950s which polluted the toki`s body and killed off its prey which it usually hunts for in rice fields.
Albeit it was noticed that the toki population had plummeted in the years after World War II and it being declared an endangered species with designated no-hunting zones, industrial development around these zones was not restricted.
By the eighties, the bird was deemed extinct in the wild not just within Japan but also in China and Korea. The last five surviving wild toki on Sado Island were captured and transferred to the Sado Toki Conservation Centre. However, surprisingly in 1981, the crested ibis was rediscovered in China and plans of propagation were made between the two countries. China presented a mating pair of crested ibis to Japan to attempt artificial breeding with the ones kept at the Conservation Center on Sado which finally succeeded in the early 2000s.
Since 2008, artificially bred toki are being released to return to the wild twice a year. Meanwhile, breeding among wild toki has also been confirmed. As of 2020, around 450 rewilded toki populate Sado Island and to protect the bird, local rice farmers strive to cultivate their fields in an environment friendly way immensely reducing the use of chemical pesticides so that the past won`t repeat itself.