bald ibisThe Middle East's rarest bird now has a chance at surviving, thanks to a gift from Turkey.

Once revered by the Egyptian pharaohs, the northern bald ibis (Geronticus eremita) is now critically endangered. Only a few hundred birds remain: 100 breeding pairs in Morocco, another 100 or so semi-wild birds in Turkey and, until recently, four wild birds in Syria. But now the Syrian population—the only northern bald ibis population in the Middle East—has grown by six birds, thanks to a donation from the Turkish government.

The Syrian population has not had an easy decade. Previously thought to be extinct in the region, a single ibis population of seven adult birds was rediscovered in Syria in 2002. Those seven birds raised at least 24 chicks by 2008, but the population crashed that year, possibly due to predation, leaving just three adults and one juvenile bird in the wild.

Now six more northern bald ibis adults have made their way to Syria. Four birds will form the core of a captive breeding colony. Two adults, meanwhile, have been fitted with satellite tracking devices and introduced to the wild population in the hope that they will pair up and breed, according to a release from BirdLife International.

The bald ibis population in Turkey is only semi-wild—the birds fly free for five months of the year, during which time they breed on their natural nest sites and man-made nesting boxes. After their breeding season is complete, the birds are taken into captivity to prevent them from migrating.

The Syrian birds do, however, migrate, and now nearly a dozen government organizations and NGOs are collaborating to protect them as they travel. The birds are all monitored by satellite, and you can track their progress online as they begin their winter migration to Ethiopia.

Photo via Wikipedia