IUCN threat status:

Extinct (EX)

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The Réunion ibis or Réunion sacred ibis (Threskiornis solitarius) is an extinct species of ibis that was endemic to the volcanic island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean. The first subfossil remains were found in 1974, and the ibis was first scientifically described in 1987. Its closest relatives are the Malagasy sacred ibis, the African sacred ibis, and the straw-necked ibis.

Travellers' accounts from the 17th and 18th centuries described a white bird that flew with difficulty, and it was subsequently referred to as the Réunion solitaire. In the mid‐19th century, the old travellers' accounts were incorrectly assumed to refer to white relatives of the dodo, due to one account specifically mentioning dodos on the island, and because 17th-century paintings of white dodos had recently surfaced. However, no fossils referable to dodo-like birds were ever found on Réunion, and it was later questioned whether the paintings had anything to do with the island. Other identities were suggested as well, based only on speculation. In the late 20th century, the discovery of a subfossil ibis led to the idea that the old accounts actually referred to an ibis species instead. The idea that the solitaire and the subfossil ibis are identical has only met with limited dissent, and is now widely accepted.

Combined, the old descriptions and subfossils show that the Réunion ibis was mainly white, with this colour merging into yellow and grey. The wing tips and plumes of ostrich-like feathers on its rear were black. The neck and legs were long, the beak was relatively straight and short for an ibis. It was more robust in build than its extant relatives, but was otherwise quite similar to them. Subfossil wing-bones indicate it had reduced flight capabilities, a feature perhaps linked to seasonal fattening. The diet of the Réunion ibis was worms and other items foraged from soil. It preferred solitude (hence the name "solitaire"). In the 17th century, it lived in mountainous areas, but it may have been confined to these remote heights by heavy hunting by humans and predation by introduced animals in the more accessible areas of the island. Visitors to Réunion praised its flavour, and therefore sought after its flesh. These factors are believed to have driven the Réunion ibis to extinction by the early 18th century.

(From Wikipedia 17 September 2014)


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