Conservation and wild release from London Zoo

London Zoo's work protecting species and restoring ecosystems underpins everything we do – and reintroducing animals back to wild habitats is always a fantastic moment for our conservationists, scientists and zookeepers.

Four northern bald ibis (Geronticus eremita), also known as Waldrapp ibis, that were bred and hatched at London Zoo as part of a conservation breeding programme were translocated to Spain for a wild release in 2019.

The species was once widespread in Europe but suffered a drastic decline due to hunting, habitat loss due to agricultural expansion, and pesticide poisoning. It’s now one of the most endangered migratory bird species worldwide, classified as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. 

Conservationists estimate that only 600 northern bald ibis remain in the wild after the species disappeared from Europe almost 300 years ago.

Waldrapp ibis facts

Reintroducing birds to the wild

The juvenile ibis, who were affectionately nicknamed Iris, Indigo, Igor and Ivan by their keepers here at London Zoo, joined birds bred at other zoos across Europe at a holding aviary in Jerez Zoo in Spain. 

Once there they had time to form bonds with the rest of the group, and were encouraged to fend for themselves under the watchful eye of conservationists before being gradually introduced to life in the wild.

Their release to an area of ecological significance in Andalucia represents a great milestone in collaborative breeding and reintroduction programmes. The release area, called La Janda, has been the hub of European conservation efforts to reintroduce the species since the project’s inception in 2004. It is populated with vast grasslands, arable fields and water sources – an ideal habitats for these unique birds.

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Fond goodbyes and happy endings

London Zoo bird keeper Paul Atkin raised the birds from the moment they hatched. He said: “I’ve been working with the breeding population of these remarkable birds at the zoo for some twenty years, so it’s a joy to be working with zoos across Europe as part of their reintroduction in Spain.”

The northern bald ibis remains an important part of the European Endangered Species Programme, which preserves genetically healthy and diverse backup populations in zoos. 

We will continue to breed this unique species so that future generations may also be reintroduced to the wild.

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