The project to introduce an extinct bird back to Europe is hailing success after successfully negotiating a new route over the Alps and training 14 Northern Bald Ibises how to fly south to winter feeding grounds in southern Tuscany.
The project led by Johannes Fritz involved inprinting the baby birds by persuading them that human carers were their real parents. When the birds had grown to adulthood they were then encouraged to follow that human “parents” in a microlight aircraft to make the 300 mile journey across the Alps to Italy.
And although the project has had some success in taking small numbers of the birds backwards and forwards between Italy in the winter and the Austrian and German Alps where they spend the summer, it was severely hampered by hunters, particularly in Italy.
However the brand-new route negotiated by the team has halved the amount of time the birds have to spend in the air where they are vulnerable to hunters. It also involved flying at heights of up to 2,400 metres when they were easily out of the range of most hunters.
Johannes Fritz said: “The best thing about the whole project this year was it only took us eleven days to make the trip, which means they moved from the protected area in central Europe much quicker to Italy, which meant less danger at least from hunters on the way. In Italy they are also protected at the WWF Laguna di Orbetello sanctuary.”
He added however that the mountain ranges themselves with extremely strong turbulence had also posed a risk to the birds. He added: “For me it was probably the most difficult flight in my flying career. That the birds under these difficult conditions followed the aircraft at all is certainly down to the extremely close relationship with their two foster parents.”
The Northern Bald Ibis, one of the most endangered migratory bird species worldwide, was native in Central Europe until the 17th century before it became extinct due to overhunting.
This year the microlight set off from Groedig, a town in the Austrian state of Salzburg, with 14 birds and their human foster parents, Corinna Esterer and Anne‐Gabriela Schmalstieg, backed up by support team of sixteen people including two microlights.
After being made to see that their carers were on board, the birds then automatically followed when they set off south.