]] |科 = トキ科 |亜科 = トキ亜科 |属 = トキ属 ' |種 = トキ |学名 = Nipponia nippon |和名 = トキ（朱鷺、鴇）、
ドウ（新潟・石川などの方言） |英名 = Crested ibis, Japanese crested ibis }}
Let's hope Japan's new wild ibises can survive
The two kanji characters for toki, the Japanese crested ibis, mean "vermilion" and "heron." Whenever this bird is mentioned, I am reminded of the beauty of these characters and smile at the bird's delightfully simple scientific name--Nipponia nippon.
Combined with the atmosphere of the island of Sado, the last known habitat of the bird in Japan, I feel nostalgic when I recall images of these birds at rest or in flight.
One of the oldest references to the toki appears in "Nihon Shoki" (the chronicles of Japan), which was compiled in the eighth century. In the book, the Chinese characters by which the bird is identified stand for "pink," "flower" and "bird." Sadly, it was its beautiful, pale pink plumage that doomed this species. Overhunting caused the toki population to plummet after the Meiji Era (1868-1912). Urbanization worsened the situation. By the time people realized the bird needed protection, it was too late. The species became extinct in the wild in Japan in 2003.
On Thursday, however, 10 Japanese crested ibises were released to the wild in Sado in Niigata Prefecture. These birds were artificially bred, the offspring of birds born in China. Since all surviving Japanese-born ibises were taken into protective captivity in 1981, this was the first time in 27 years that a flock of flying toki could be seen in Japan.
A haiku by Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827) goes: "Wild geese/ You are Japanese from today/ Sleep well." I wish I could give this same benediction to the just-released birds, but I understand that their living environment is now harsher than ever.
There are fewer rice paddies, which are their feeding grounds, and more roads cutting through the mountains. The deep snows of winter will soon cover the island in the Sea of Japan. Even experts are said to be unsure if these birds will be able to survive.
In 1960, the toki became only the 13th bird species to be named as internationally protected.
One of the people who fought hard for that designation was Godo Nakanishi, a Buddhist priest and writer who founded the Wild Bird Society of Japan in 1934. Nakanishi preached that protecting birds also required the preservation of mountains and rivers, and stated his philosophy of nature with his motto: "Let wild birds remain wild."
But Japan's wild crested ibises became extinct anyway, and their "cage-reared" descendants may not survive in the wild. This is the price humans have to pay for our failure to preserve the mountains and rivers.
The toki, with its gentle nature, is said to have no weapon for survival other than its timidity. I hope the day will come when Japanese crested ibises are once again part and parcel of the Sado scenery all year round.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 26(IHT/Asahi: September 27,2008)