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Historical References

There are references to ibises in the Bible. Moses was told by God not to eat them, and they were also referred to A white ibis (Eudocimus albus) at Estero Island, Florida. Photograph by Robert J. Huffman. Field Mark Publications. Reproduced by permission.

as birds of doom in other parts of the Bible. The ancient Egyptians considered the sacred ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus) to be a sacred bird. Drawings, statues, and mummified ibises have been found in abundance in cemeteries dedicated to them. At a location near Memphis, Egypt, 1.5 million mummified birds were found. However, the sacred ibis has been absent from Egypt for well over 100 years, because of excessive hunting and habitat loss.

The Egyptian god of wisdom and knowledge, Thoth, is depicted in ancient Egyptian artifacts as a man with the head of an ibis. During the fourth and fifth centuries B.C., ibises were engraved on Greek coins. During the Middle Ages, Austrian nobles ate ibis as a delicacy. They were first described scientifically by a European naturalist, Konrad Gesner, in the sixteenth century. By the middle of the seventeenth century, they disappeared from central Europe, and the bird that Gesner described and painted was not noted again until it was seen in 1832 near the Red Sea. In the nineteenth century, a society of British ornithologists named their journal for the ibis.

A number of species of ibises are endangered. Among these is the formerly widespread Waldrapp ibis, which is reduced to present-day populations in Turkey.

There are 800 Waldrapp ibises in zoos all over the world and efforts are being made to reintroduce them into their former habitat. Other endangered species are the bald ibis of southern Africa, the dwarf olive ibis of the island of Sao Tome in West Africa, the oriental crested ibis of Asia, the giant ibis of Vietnam, and the white-shouldered ibis of Vietnam and Borneo. As with many other animals, the destruction of natural habitat, especially wetland drainage, is the primary threat to these wading birds. However, they are also hunted as food.



Bildstein, Keith L. White Ibis: Wetland Wanderer. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993.

Boylan, P. Thoth: The Hermes of Egypt. 1922. Reprint. Chicago: Ares Publishers, 1987.

Campbell, N., J. Reece, and L. Mitchell. Biology. 5th ed. Menlo Park: Benjamin Cummings, Inc. 2000.

Hancock, James A., James A. Kushlan, and M. Philip Kahl. Storks, Ibises and Spoonbills of the World. London: Academic Press, 1992.

Vita Richman

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Hydrazones to IncompatibilityIbises - Habitat And Behavior, Historical References