Dedicated efforts from conservationists and townspeople in France have saved white storks from going extinct in the country.

Ciconia ciconia -Mscichy, Grajewo County, Poland-8.jpgDedicated efforts from conservationists and townspeople in France have saved white storks from going extinct in the country.

Nearly wiped out in the 1960s by industrialization, the white stork has made a comeback in France thanks to conservation efforts.

The same rule applies walking through the streets of Alsace, France, as it does in the Sistine Chapel: Don’t forget to look up.

Nowadays, white storks—harbingers of fertility and good fortune—perch above Alsace (map) in nests that can grow large enough to almost fit a smart car. This wasn’t always true: Rewind to the 1980s, and these roughly three feet (meter) tall birds were mostly found adorning signs and as figurines in tourist shops throughout this region of eastern France.

By the mid 1970s, white stork populations in Alsace had dwindled to fewer than ten mating pairs, mostly due to human development, according to Jérôme Renaud, Director of the Center for the Reintroduction of Storks in Hunawihr. Although the wide-ranging species still bred in parts of central and southern Europe, it teetered on the edge of extinction in Alsace.

The white stork is considered an emblem of the region, “a bird venerated by the Alsatians almost to the same degree as the ibis in ancient Egypt,” according to an 1888 article. (Read more about the myth of storks as baby bringers.)

Adoration for storks runs deep in France, and through heroic efforts to reintroduce and protect them, the leggy birds are bouncing back.

In 1976 the Renaud family established the Center for the Reintroduction of Storks, with many other organizations—including the Association for the Protection and Reintroduction of Storks in Alsace and Lorraine (APRSAL)—joining in the fight.

The center raised the storks in captivity until they had a sizable breeding population. Now that there are roughly 600 mating pairs living in Alsace, the facility focuses its efforts to raise birds for other parks, zoos, and reintroduction programs. (Also see our backyard bird identifier.)

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