The Northern Bald Ibis is a migratory bird that was native to central Europe until the 17th century, when it disappeared there due to excessive hunting. As part of the first LIFE project from 2014 to 2019, (LIFE+12 – BIO_AT_000143) a migratory population of Northern Bald Ibises was resettled in Europe. In 2019, 142 birds lived in three breeding colonies north of the Alps, all with a common wintering area in Tuscany. Losses due to illegal bird hunting in Italy could almost be cut in half due to the protection efforts. Although the project goals were achieved, modeling showed that a population of this size is not yet self-sustaining.
For this reason, another application was submitted, and a second LIFE project was approved: LIFE20 Northern Bald Ibis (LIFE20 NAT/AT/000 049). From 2022 to 2028, 60% of the project’s budget will come from the EU, while the remaining 40% will come from partners and co-financers. The objective is to further develop the population until it is self-sustaining.
The project is being implemented by ten partners from four countries, under the direction of Zoo Vienna and with the participation of the Waldrappteam, which has promoted the project in the past. Austria, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland are to take part.
Establishment of a self-sustaining populationBy the end of the project in 2028, more than 260 Northern Bald Ibises are expected to migrate between the northern foothills of the Apls and Tuscany. This corresponds to the calculated minimum number of individuals necessary for the continued existence of the wild population. At the end of the first LIFE project in 2019, the population was comprised of 142 individuals. In addition to the existing colonies in southern Germany and in the province of Salzburg, three other migratory colonies are to be established in Switzerland, Carinthia, and northern Italy. A so-called satellite colony will also be set up in the vicinity and will have birds from the breeding sites of Kuchl and Burghausen. The WWF Oasi Laguna di Orbetello in Tuscany will continue to serve as a common wintering ground for all existing and planned colonies. This will insure genetic exchanges within the entire population. The exact measures for the individual colonies are explained at the project sites. The primary method for establishing new breeding colonies remains human-led migration (HLM). More information about this procedure can be found under the menu item Release. In addition to HLM, other methods for colony building are to be developed and implemented.
Actions against illegal poaching
Most of the Northern Bald Ibises in the European release population have GPS tags. This intensive monitoring has already enabled efficient measures against illegal poaching in Italy in the first LIFE project and should therefore also be continued in the current project. The aim is to reduce the proportions of losses in Italy due to illegal hunting activities from the current 31% to less than 25% by 2028.
Extensive actions are planned in cooperation with partner organizations, policy makers and hunting associations at national and European levels. Raising public awareness through public relations and media work also remains an important part of the campaign.
Other protected migratory bird species are likely to be affected to a similar extent by illegal hunting in Italy. The campaign is therefore of great importance for the protection of many European species.
Action against electric shockElectrocution caused by unsecured middle-current pylons are the most common cause of death for Northern Bald Ibises in the Austrian breeding grounds. Like many other birds, they prefer to use the exposed masts as places to rest and sleep. On poles without preventative measures, birds may cause a short circuit. In the past, up to five ibises were killed at the same time! In Austria, electrocution losses are to be reduced from the current 45% to less than 38% by the end of the project in 2028. Together with the power companies of Upper Austria (NetzOÖ), Salzburg (LSB) and Carinthia (KNG), more than 160 high-risk masts in the vicinity of the breeding areas are to be secured. Since birds of prey, owls and storks use the same masts, the retrofitting is important for the protection of many species. In addition, a state-wide legal regulation for the re-securing of medium-voltage pylons should be given. In countries like Germany, this measure has already been expressed in the Federal Nature Conservation Act. As a result of the nationwide implementations, Northern Bald Ibises have not been killed by electrocution in Germany for years. At the same time however, it is still a common cause in Austria. For long-term legal implementation in Austria, the project team receives support from legal and policy experts at WWF Germany.
Most of the Northern Bald Ibises in the released population carry solar powered GPS tags that periodically map their location. This information is mainly used for monitoring but is also used to be able to carry out targeted management measures in the event of injuries or heightened risk. The collected data is also transferred to the online database Movebank of the Marx Planck Institute in Radolfzell, where they are available for research purposes. From Movebank, the data is transmitted to the free Animal Tracker app, where it is made available to the public. The app allows the visualization of the bird’s position in a clear and understandable manner. This allows anyone interested to follow a bird’s movement almost in real time. The publication of the app by the institution was supported in the first LIFE project.
In the second LIFE project, some of the young birds are also to be equipped with transmitters. The project team continues to have access to important data on the spatial and temporal patterns of the birds. This enables efficient management and targeted measures against illegal bird hunting.