A rare female Ibis that was named after its patron the British conservationist Jane Goodall has been shot by poachers in Italy.
The Ibis has been extinct in Europe for 400 years but this year after a project spanning 10 years a team led by bird expert Dr Johannes Fritz had finally managed to reintroduce a colony.
The shot Northern Bald Ibis named GoJa after the initial letters of the name of its patron Jane Goodall became the first of its species to fly unaided over the Alps to northern Europe in 400 years ago after being given flying lessons from a microlight.
The species lived in Europe for 1.8 million years before they were wiped out by hunters four centuries ago, and conservationist Dr Fritz used the technique of imprinting by making sure he was the first thing the chicks of the rare Northern Bald Ibis saw when they hatched.
Using the trust that bond built up, he then persuaded the birds to follow him in his microlight between the birds summer and winter feeding grounds in Tuscany and the Austrian and German Alps.
This year he celebrated the fact that after a decade of work, the first of the birds – Goja – had finally made it back over the Alps under her own steam and then had raised a family before flying back over Italy – where she was shot.
The birds flight was tracked by a GPS system that was fitted to all the adult birds last year and was coupled with a campaign to educate hunters to avoid having the birds shot.
He said: “This year we had one bird fly up from Tuscany and six that flew back which were fitted with a tracking system – and of these three have been shot in Italy. Another juvenile bird that not fitted with a device has also gone missing and has probably been shot. That means a more than 50 per cent loss to poaching.”
The team are no using the GPS devices on the remaining birds to locate them and trap them to prevent further losses to poachers.
The first bird to be shot was recovered alive but badly injured near Cecina, and will probably never fly again. The other two birds, Goja and a juvenile called Jedi, were shot 40 km further south near San Vincenzo.
The pair were being followed by conservationist Anne-Gabriela Schmalstieg who said: “I was with the birds on the night roost the day before. They slept at an electric line south of Venturina. At 07:30 they left from there to the West and I tried to follow. At 08:00 I got a position indicating that the birds were in flight. At 09:00 I got a further position which worried me. It was on the ground in a forest area, what is a quite unusual as they were supposed to be migrating and therefore should have been on the move.”
She said when she arrived she had been threatened by two hunters and told to get off their land, but then later a third hunter had agreed to help her enter to look for the birds and she recovered Jedi heavily bleeding and trying to hide under a bush on the forest floor. A short while later she found the badly injured Goja also bleeding heavily.
She said: “I did what I could but Goja died in my arms. We have been with these birds since they were hatched, watched them grow and learn to fly and then return to the wild. I have lost a friend. And Goja was such a personality.
“Because of what she had achieved, like no other bird in our group she represented the hope that this birds can again live in Europe 400 years after extinction.”
Johannes Fritz said: “We have always said illegal hunting is the major threat for our project. We do can track and follow the birds and are always no more than an hour from them but we cannot avoid poachers.”
The Italian bird conservation organization LIPU and also the Italian hunting association Federcaccia have issued a statement condemning the incident.
But Dr Fritz is taking no chances and said: “For this season we will avoid further losses by catching all the birds which are still on the way. My hope is that we can make the migration journey safer in the near future, for the Ibis as a flagship species as well as for other endangered bird species.”
Jane Goodall is not only a supporter of the project but also visited us for the first time in 2008 for a book project she was working on.