JEDDAH: Thousands of animal species around the world are at risk of extinction due to different factors, including global warming, urbanization, and deforestation.
Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture recently revealed that the Asiri magpie, which is listed among the world’s rarest birds and can only be found in the Kingdom, is also endangered.
The ministry has prohibited any hunting activity targeting this bird and warned that any poaching attempts will cost people a fine of SR100.000 ($26,624).
The Asiri magpie is one of the most endangered birds in the country due to its specific behavioral preferences, such as isolation as they do not like to be noticed. There are also some genetic breeding issues, as well as environmental factors.
What distinguishes this magpie from other types of the bird are its large beak and the small white mark on the shoulders. It weighs 240 grams and measures 48 cm in length, including an estimated tail length of 20 cm.
The bird stands out for its distinctive features and also for the beautiful sound it makes. It is considered to be creative and quite intelligent when it comes to building and engineering its nest.
The name of the bird is inspired by its only natural habitat in Saudi Arabia, in the southern region of Asir. It is found mainly around Tanomah city, between Balsamar and Al-Namas, and there is also a small cluster found near Abha city and the mountains of Al-Qahr.
This magpie is found at an altitude of 2,100 meters in forested areas. It can also be found in cultivated areas and open hillsides that have juniper and acacia trees.
It is different in form and behavior from other magpies, and it is also genetically different. It is considered to be one of the most isolated types of the magpie species as it inhabits a relatively small geographical area.
The director-general and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Department at the National Center for Wildlife Ahmad Al-Booq said that latest estimates suggested there were between 50 to 135 breeding pairs in the wild, equivalent to only 270 birds, in the country. “This number is by far the lowest of any endemic bird in the Arabian Peninsula,” he told Arab News.
The Asiri magpie used to be found in Taif city in the north and also in Zahran in the south. Now it is only present in a few small patches of juniper forests in the southwestern highlands of Saudi Arabia, representing a shrinkage of more than 90 percent in less than 80 years.
Unfortunately, as the population of this bird dwindles over time, there is a clear path toward extinction. “Genetic studies indicate that the Asiri magpie lived in isolation for the past 1.4 million years,” said Al-Booq. “If the current rate of deforestation continues or accelerates, the Asiri magpie will be extinct within two decades.”
Several factors have caused this bird to decrease in number. Agricultural activities, road construction, and housing development have led to the removal of juniper and acacia trees, which are the preferred nesting and feeding sites for Asiri magpies. Other threats include indirect poisoning and the deterioration of environments suitable for breeding. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the Asiri magpie is classified as endangered.
There are 27 types of endangered, critically endangered, and vulnerable birds in the world and the Kingdom, including the greater spotted eagle, the sooty falcon, the rustic bunting, the Egyptian vulture, the Yemen thrush, the Arabian grosbeak, and the Arabian woodpecker.
The National Center for Wildlife is developing a program to help the Asiri magpie with rehabilitation and improved breeding, in addition to several projects to protect endangered birds in the Kingdom by reducing the risks they face.