Some good news for an endangered species, the oriental white stork (Ciconia boyciana). Known in Japan as konotori (鸛 or 鵠の鳥) and formerly as kui, it became extinct in the wild here before I was born!
Some quick research shows that Toyooka has a shrine dedicated to these birds, the Kukuhi Shrine, which probably explains why the stork breeding program is based there.
From The Japan Times
KOBE – White storks, a government-designated special natural treasure in Japan, are being released into the wild here in increasing numbers.
Feral white storks are believed to have gone extinct in Japan in 1971. But attempts to breed storks and release them into the wild began in Hyogo Prefecture in 2005.
Similar efforts began in two other areas of Japan in 2015 and the number of wild white storks in the nation is believed to have topped 100 this year.
White storks once inhabited paddies and marshy areas of the country, feeding mainly on loaches and frogs, but the population fell due to postwar overhunting.
The white stork is now designated as an endangered species, with only some 2,000 of them living in the entire Far East.
Hyogo Prefecture’s Park for the Oriental White Stork in Toyooka, a former breeding location, has launched a project to rebuild the population of wild white storks.
The park started a breeding program mainly with pairs of wild white storks provided by Russia. It has released 41 of the birds since 2005.
For outdoor nesting, the park has been installing towers with net plates of iron on top, in and outside of Hyogo Prefecture.
“White storks can now give birth and raise chicks in the wild in Toyooka,” said Yasuo Ezaki, research head of the park. But they “eat about 1 kg of food a day. We need to increase populations of freshwater fish and other living things as feed.”
According to the park, around 90 white storks, including those released from the park and those hatched outside, are living in the wild.
“White storks have been confirmed in 45 prefectures in the country so far,” a park official said.
In 2015, the Fukui Prefectural Government and the city of Noda, Chiba Prefecture, launched similar projects, aiming to use white storks as a symbol of restoring the nature to its former glory.
“We want to leave a rich natural environment for the future,” a Noda official said.
Fukui has released four white storks and Noda five, and a total of eight now live in the wild. Both governments say they plan to continue the projects.
Meanwhile, the Tokushima Prefectural Government aims to attract white storks flying to the prefecture to settle there.
Some 20 white storks have flown to Tokushima in the past few years, with one observed laying eggs in the city of Naruto. Tokushima plans to establish feeding sites by preparing a more eco-friendly environment.
I disagree with the use of the word “feral” in the second paragraph, as the Oxford English Dictionary defines it:
…in a wild state, especially after escape from captivity or domestication
Apparently, Korea and China have similar breeding programs, but ultimately it will take a concerted effort on environmental protection and restoration to bring these birds and other species back.