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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Ibis revival helps town take flight

Midori Aoki

Aug. 2, 2017

A wild bird once thought to be extinct is making a comeback in inland China. The endangered crested ibis' population is now in the thousands. Its revival is also hatching economic spinoffs in the area.

"The crested ibis is known for its beautiful color. In China, we believe that it brings luck and beauty," says Photographer Li Ping.

For more than 2 decades, Li has dedicated his life to capturing photos of the endangered crested ibis. He wants to raise awareness about the rare species.

"In order to save the crested ibis, more people need to know about it. We need to understand that saving the bird also means protecting the environment," says Li.

The wild bird used to live in East Asia and the Russian Far East. But its population plunged as human development encroached on the bird's habitat. At one point, researchers thought the crested ibis was extinct.

But when several of them were spotted in 1981, the Chinese government started running an artificial breeding program and planting trees for nesting. Now, 2,000 birds are estimated to live there.

Local farmers helped. They cut down on pesticide use and in turn, say the birds have been helping control pests for them too. "Rice eels are harmful to our crops and the birds eat them. That's very helpful," says a farmer.

Now, the area is seeing other benefits connected to the bird's comeback, including an influx of tourists flocking to the area. Last year, 8 million people visited the town. That's quadruple the number of visitors 5 years ago.

"We need to do our part to help protect the birds. They are a rare species so they need our care and attention," says a tourist.

A wine company touting itself as an ecologically-friendly option uses locally grown rice and features the ibis on its packaging.

"Our products are organic, healthy and eco-friendly, just like the bird’s habitat area. Customers will learn about the crested ibis through us. It's a win-win situation," Shaanxi Zhuhuan Wine's General Manager, Sui Zhaohua.

Both conservationists and businesses will keep watching the ibis' recovery closely. They hope that the bird's population and tourism in the area will continue to take flight.