China to present Japan with endangered birds as relations warm

Rare wading birds from China may be on their way to teach relatives in Japan to hunt for insects and build nests as the two countries step up conservation of the endangered ibises amid improving bilateral relations.

Chinese President Wen Jiabao will announce a gift of several crested ibises when he meets Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of a regional summit in the Philippines this weekend, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported Wednesday, citing unnamed officials.

The ibis with a red face and legs, pinkish-white body and sloping black beak once crowded rice fields all over Japan and was a favorite of scroll artists. But development, rice paddy pesticides and deforestation destroyed the birds' habitat.

China's ibises will go to the Sado Japanese Crested Ibis Conservation Center in northwest Japan home to 97 ibises raised in captivity to teach them to hunt and make nests in the wild, the Yomiuri said.

No wild ibises have existed in Japan since 1981, and the center hopes to start reintroducing the birds into surrounding areas next year.

"We would of course be overjoyed to receive ibises from China," the center's director Masaru Hasegawa said Thursday. "Our ibises need good teachers that can show them how to hunt and survive in the wilderness."

He said, however, the government had not yet contacted him about the possible gift. Officials at the prime minister's office in Tokyo said they could not comment on the report.

China has been helping Japan with its ibis conservation program since 1998, when then-President Jiang Zemin presented the Sado center with a pair named Yo-Yo and Yang-Yang.

The birth of the couple's first chick in Japan a year later triggered a media frenzy, with TV stations airing hour-by-hour updates as it pecked through the shell.

But a bird flu outbreak in Asia, as well as deteriorating ties between Tokyo and Beijing, scuttled plans for more Chinese ibises to travel to Japan. The Sado center's birds are all descendants of the original Chinese pair, and more birds are also needed to prevent the population from becoming too inbred, Hasegawa said, reports AP.

In Tokyo, top government spokesman Yasuhisa Shiozaki said Wednesday that China and Japan had been talking about teaming up to save Japan's ibises.

"It is a very good thing that Japan and China can cooperate to save an endangered species," he said.

Relations between the two countries, which plunged over former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's repeated visits to a controversial war shrine, have warmed since Abe took power in September.

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