Stork re­vival

Fol­low­ing a suc­cess­ful cap­tive breed­ing pro­gramme, the once-ex­tinct Ori­en­tal white storks are fly­ing over Ja­pan again.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ENVIRONMENT - By KyoKo Hasegawa

Fol­low­ing a suc­cess­ful cap­tive breed­ing pro­grame, the once ex­tinct Ori­en­tal white storks are fly­ing over Ja­pan again.

Four decades ago, the ori­en­tal white stork be­came ex­tinct in Ja­pan, the vic­tim of rapid in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion and mod­ern farm prac­tices and heavy pes­ti­cide use that de­stroyed its habi­tat.

To­day, the grace­ful mi­gra­tory bird soars again over re­stored wet­lands around the small town of Toy­ooka in western Ja­pan, now a show­case for an am­bi­tious con­ser­va­tion ef­fort called the Satoyama Ini­tia­tive.

The ini­tia­tive draws lessons from be­fore Ja­pan be­came stud­ded with megac­i­ties and criss­crossed by bul­let train lines, when most peo­ple lived in vil­lages near rice pad­dies, bam­boo groves and forests.

In the pre-in­dus­trial age, wood­lands gave vil­lagers plants, nuts, mush­rooms and wildlife as well as nat­u­ral medicines, tex­tiles, fuel and tim­ber for build­ing, all usu­ally har­vested sus­tain­ably over the cen­turies.

These man­aged ecosys­tems – nei­ther pris­tine wilder­ness nor cul­ti­vated agri­cul­tural land­scapes – are known as satoyama, a com­pos­ite of the words for vil­lages ( sato) and moun­tains, woods and grass­lands ( yama).

To­day ecol­o­gists, some­what less po­et­i­cally, call them “so­cioe­co­log­i­cal pro­duc­tion land­scapes”.

In Ja­pan, as else­where, these hu­man-in­flu­enced nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ments have been on the de­cline as many forests have van­ished, agri­cul­ture has be­come mod­ernised, and small farm vil­lages have been aban­doned. Buck­ing the trend has been Toy­ooka, a town of about 90,000 peo­ple in the west of Hon­shu is­land, which prides it­self on un­do­ing much of the past dam­age that had wiped out the ori­en­tal white stork.

The bird, which has a wing­span of 2m and is of­fi­cially des­ig­nated a na­tional trea­sure in Ja­pan, be­came ex­tinct in the coun­try in 1971.

Lo­cal farmer Tet­suro In­aba, 68, re­mem­bers how when he was a child the birds were still a com­mon sight across the coun­try, be­fore they slowly van­ished, with the heavy use of pes­ti­cides de­liv­er­ing the fi­nal blow.

“When I took over the farm from my fa­ther, the farm­ers here were ad­dicted to pes­ti­cides. In hind­sight, we used ter­ri­fy­ing amounts,” he said.

When wild stork num­bers in Toy­ooka fell to just 12 in 1965, the city caught a pair and started an ar­ti­fi­cial breed­ing pro­gramme. But the con­ser­va­tion at­tempt failed. And the rest died out in the wild by 1971.

“They had lost their re­pro­duc­tive ca­pac­ity be­cause of the mer­cury that had ac­cu­mu­lated in­side their bod­ies from pes­ti­cides,” says In­aba.

In 1992, In­aba be­came a com­mu­nity leader, de­ter­mined to “live with the storks” – a species that sur­vived in parts of rus­sia, China and Korea. In­aba and other farm­ers stud­ied how to grow rice with­out pes­ti­cides. They also re­built wa­ter­ways and flooded some rice fields for longer or all year-round to bring back fish and frogs that are food sources for the storks.

“When I learnt that frogs eat nox­ious in­sects, I was very moved. I said to my­self ‘we can do farm­ing with­out pes­ti­cides’,” said In­aba.

As the lo­cal habi­tats slowly re­cov­ered, Toy­ooka re­leased storks into the wild five years ago. They had been bred in cap­tiv­ity from six young birds do­nated by rus­sia’s far-east­ern city of Khabarovsk two decades ear­lier. Now, about 50 storks live in lo­cal wet­lands and fields and 100 in a pub­lic park in Toy­ooka, a fact that the city proudly pro­motes to at­tract tourists.

The birds have be­come the em­blem of the lo­cal brand of “Stork-Nur­tur­ing rice“, pop­u­lar with eco­log­i­cally-minded con­sumers who can or­der it on­line.

In­aba said grow­ing or­ganic rice is more chal­leng­ing than it was when farm­ers doused fields in pes­ti­cides, but said he was de­ter­mined never to go back.

“I want to pass on the land­scape that I saw as a child,” said In­aba. “I hope our ef­forts here will spread to the rest of the coun­try.” – AFP

Soar­ing again: An Ori­en­tal white stork in flight over Toy­ooka, Hyogo

Pre­fec­ture in Ja­pan. The six young storks do­nated by Rus­sia in

1985 have helped re­pop­u­late Ja­pan with the bird which went

ex­tinct there in 1971. Some 50 birds live in the wild and an­other 100 are kept in a pub­lic park in Toy­ooka.

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