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From Russia to South Korea: new scientific data on Oriental stork migration

16 february 2021
Two Oriental storks tagged with GPS transmitters in Russia with support of WWF were observed on the wintering sites in South Korea. New data on their migration route were obtained thanks to international programs on stork conservation and joint efforts of specialists from Russia, China and South Korea.
Comments Anna Serdyuk (Barma), Ph.D., senior coordinator on protected areas at WWF-Russia Amur branch: “The Oriental stork breeding grounds are located in the Russian Far East and Northeast China. Birds arrive here in spring, bring offspring, and early in autumn, when the chicks grow stronger and finally take their wings, storks fly to wintering sites in the Yangtze River basin, Lake Poyang in China. A few individuals spend winter in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. A small group of 20-30 wintering birds is annually observed in South Korea, but it has not yet been possible to track their exact migration routes. The fact that we can observe two birds tagged in Russia in a group of 20 storks wintering in South Korea is an amazing event! This also shows the efficiency of the international Oriental stork monitoring program, which WWF-Russia launched in 2018 jointly with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the network of protected areas in the Amur basin. After 3 years of the program implementation, 132 Oriental storks had been already tagged with GPS transmitters.”

The life story of these birds is quite interesting. One of them is a stork, which successfully recovered after the course of rehabilitation at the Rehab Center “TIGR” and was released into the wild in August 2020 in Evreiskaya province. Another bird was equipped with a GPS transmitter in summer 2019 in Amurskaya province during the second year of the implementation of the program to study stork migration.

The Rehab Center TIGR, August 2020. Anna Serdyuk puts the transmitter on the stork rescued in Primorsky province © Elena Starostina / WWF Russia
One of the stork chiks from this nest is now wintering in the south of the Korean Peninsula
The stork that was tagged in Amurskaya province in 2019 © Anna Serdyuk / WWF Russia
From Russia to South Korea
WWF Russia
The transmitters for tracking the storks were obtained thanks to cooperation between the Research Center for Ecology and the Environment of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Honghe Nature Reserve (China), the Coordination Council of Nature Reserves and National Parks of the Southern Far East (Russia), the Directorate of Protected Areas Zapovednoye Priamurye and WWF-Russia Amur branch.
“Oriental Stork is country grade one protected animal in China. The species is also listed as “endangered” in the IUCN red list. The migration route belongs to the East Asia-Australia, which is the most threatened one. In order to conserve this endangered species and promote population restoration, it is necessary to understand the migration route structure of this species, including migration route and key stopovers. Our previous tracking data showed the wintering sites are dominantly in Poyang Lake and Bohai Bay in China. The new wintering sites in South Korea of the tracked individuals might thank to the efforts of effective conservation measures such as the artificial population restoration in the breeding grounds. The long term cooperation since 2018 between RCEES and WWF Russia on Oriental Stork satellite tracking project will largely promote further understanding of the migration ecology of this species and clarify the migration strategy and relevant threaten factors, so that to lay significant basis for the conservation management and population restoration of this rare species», - Cao Lei, Ph.D., Researcher, Research center for Eco-Environmental Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences.
The map of migration routes of two storks tageed in Russia. Blue - strok from Amurskaya province. Red - stork from Primorsky province
WWF Russia

Unique information about two Oriental storks tagged in Russia with GPS transmitters wintering in South Korea was received in early December 2020. Experts from the Endangered Species Restoration Center of the National Institute of Ecology of the Republic of Korea helped to check the signals of the transmitters, track these birds and find out their condition.

According to Jongmin Yoon, Ph.D., Division Head of Avian Research, Endangered Species Restoration Center: “South Korea has restored the extirpated resident population of oriental storks through captive propagation and reintroduction since 1996. However, the ecology of wintering storks from Russia or partly China was not well understood in South Korea. We believe that the first effort to track two storks from Russia will provide scientists with valuable information with respect to migration behavior, wintering habitat use, and interaction between migrants and residents in oriental storks.”

Tagged storks from Russian Amur basin in the group of birds on the wintering sites in South Korea. Video by Jongmin Yoon

50 years ago, the breeding population of the Oriental stork disappeared in the Republic of Korea due to heavy use of herbicide, with the last bird recorded here in 1971. In 1994, a joint Russian-Korean project to reintroduce the species on the Korean Peninsula was launched thanks to the active participation of Yury Darman, Ph.D., the chairman of the Russian Working Group for the Oriental Stork Conservation, until recently the director of WWF-Russia Amur branch, and Vladimir Andronov, Ph.D., the head of the Directorate of Protected Areas Zapovednoye Priamurye. In the mid-90s, these two scientists worked together in Khingansky Nature Reserve and were inspired by the idea of stork conservation. 

Comments Yury Darman, Ph.D., honored ecologist of the Russian Federation, Chairman of the Russian Working Group for the Oriental Stork Conservation: “We started our work by shooting a documentary about Oriental stork showing its breeding features and habitats in Khingansky Nature Reserve and Muravyevsky Nature Park. In 1996, the first 2 chicks from Amurskaya province were officially and with all the honors handed over to the specially created Korean National Institute of the Oriental Stork. I personally brought them to Korea, and I remember very well the gentle hand of Korean biologists accepted this valuable gift from our country. After that, several more birds were transferred to Korea from Khabarovsky province, China and Japan. Their offsprings were released into the wild later, and now about 65 Oriental storks are breeding in the wild in South Korea.”
The Oriental storks on the wintering sites in South Korea
Jongmin Yoon

As a follow up of Russia and Korea interaction, which began a quarter of a century ago, at the end of 2019, a Memorandum of Cooperation was signed between WWF-Russia, the Khanka Nature Reserve and the Endangered Species Restoration Center of the National Institute of Ecology of the Republic of Korea, with the aim of preserving the Oriental stork. As a part of the work under the Memorandum, in 2020, 8 artificial supports were erected in the Khanka Reserve and the Khasan Nature Park, and the count of this rare bird was conducted. Moreover, in 2021, in collaboration with WWF-Korea the work will be carried out to increase the carrying capacity of the breeding grounds as well as to tag and monitor Oriental storks. 

“The stork conservation project of WWF-Russia and the National Institute of Ecology of South Korea is very important in terms of ecosystem biodiversity across the Korean Peninsula and Asia. WWF-Korea has recognized the importance of the project and plans to cooperate in activities for migratory bird habitat and population conservation in the future”, commented Yeonjoo Kwon, Communication Officer, WWF-Korea.

The Oriental stork is an important migratory bird species in the Amur-Heilong River Basin. It is an indicator to measure the quality of wetland habitat and ecological security. Under the pressure of human activities and development of modern agriculture, the wetlands in the Amur-Heilongjiang River Basin, are showing a trend of disappearance and degradation; it is the habitat of waterbirds represented by the oriental stork. WWF China has made many efforts in Oriental stork conservation and its habitat, including supporting population monitoring, building artificial nests, and conducting management training. Meanwhile, WWF-China has been working closely with the provincial and local authorities and scientific research institutes to compile technical instruction manuals and promote the conservation experience. It has effectively increased the breeding population of Oriental stork.

Comments Liu Peiqi, head of WWF-China North-East Office: According to statistics, historical data in 2000 showed that the breeding population of Oriental storks in Heilongjiang Province was less than 100, and by 2020 it has exceeded 600. There is also a trend of further increase. In addition to the Oriental stork population, WWF China also uses the Heilongjiang River Basin Wetland Conservation Network to support partners in the conservation of habitat restoration and biodiversity. It is an ideal platform for transboundary cooperation for migratory bird conservation between WWF Russia, WWF Mongolia and China. The transboundary conservation has already yielded some good results such as the increase in the Oriental stork population.”
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