Training camp 2003
Avian Flu stops project for Lesser Whitefronted Goose
After several years of preparation the project to rescue the critically endangered Lesser Whitefronted Goose from extinction finally was ready to start: the first chickens were supposed to hatch in May, in August the migration of the geese guided by microlight planes was planned to lead from Sweden to the Lower Rhine in Germany. Due to the recent outbreaks of avian flu in Europe the project was stopped for the time being.
Lesser Whitefronted Goose
In spite of numerous conservation efforts, the Lesser Whitefronted Goose is threatened by extinction in Scandinavia. From formerly more than 10.000 geese at present only 10 –15. breeding couples are left. The main reason for this decline is hunting to which the geese are exposed along their migrations from Northern Europe to the wintering areas in Eastern Europe.
Project for Lesser Whitefronted Goose
For more than five years an ambitious project to rescue the Lesser Whitefonted Goose from extinction was prepared. It is planned to teach young Lesser Whitefronts to adopt a former and today in most parts safe migratory route, leading from their breeding grounds in Swedish Lapland to a wintering area in the German Lower Rhine region. This method makes use of the fact that, in contrary to many passerine birds, geese do not know their migratory route by birth. Geese learn their migratory route to wintering areas by following their parents.
The pilots of the microlight planes take over this role of ‚parents’ and show the young geese the way form Northern Sweden to the Bislicher Insel in the Lower Rhine region in Germany. There the geese are released and in spring migrate back to their breeding grounds in Lapland on their own. Using this method, the extinction of the Lesser Whitefonted Goose in Scandinavia could be stopped within a manageable time frame.
After intense preparations all lights were green at the beginning of this year: all permissions were given and the planes were ordered. The pilots and team members had handed in their holiday requests or even asked for time off in order to take over the parents role for the young geese beginning in May. The migration form Northern Sweden to Germany starting in August was planned to be joined by a camera team and the German TV station ARD planned live coverage and reports
The framework conditions for the implementation of the project changed severely due to an outbreak of avian flu in Germany and other European countries. The project partners followed the development during the last weeks with high interest, asked experts and discussed consequences for the joint project.
Rearing and Migration at risk
In the present situation the scheduled implementation of the project is at risk by the recent and future measures taken to avoid a spreading of the animal disease (epizootic) and might get even impossible. If e.g. a confinement to stables should be imposed for the breeding stations taking part in the project, no young geese could be reared because the geese only breed outdoors.
Major problems could also occur during the migration from Lapland to Germany. If infected animals should be found along the planned migratory route, landing and starting would probably not be allowed in and around the restriction zones set up around the respective location. Longer deviations or even a full stop of the migration might be the consequence then.
Bird migration a risk?
The transmission routes of avian flu are still not fully understood. Most of the recent measures aim at blocking potential transmissions routes. Besides other vectors migratory birds are also blamed for spreading avian flu. Respective worries in the public, of experts and responsible politicians were considered in the decision-making for the future implementation of the project.
Await future development
After intensive discussions and thorough consideration of all potential risks the project partners agreed not to start the project this year and await the future development.
Nevertheless, Operation Lesser Whitefront will be active. The project plan, integrating project experiences from 1999 to 2002, stays the conceptual basis for implementation.
Projectplan OPERATION FJÄLLGÅS / OPERATION LESSER WHITEFRONT (PDF, 130 KB) (engl.)
Two new Polaris Trikes
At the start of the pilot project in january 2006 the Operation Lesser Whitefront has bought two Polaris trikes.
Application to the DBU
The stop of the pilot project in spring 2006 due to the avian flu resulted in additional financial needs for the continuation of the planned activities. For co-financing the Operation Lesser Whitefront has presented an application to the Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt (DBU).
In cooperation with Prof. Michael Wink, University of Heidelberg, and the financial support of the Allianz Umweltstiftung, the Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt and the swedish environmental Ministry the genetic qualification of the Swedish, Finnish and German breeding geese was successfully tested. The realisation of the tests was one precondition of the Swedish Ministry to authorise the pilot project.
Sweden extends permission
The Swedish Environmental Ministry gave the permission to realise the pilot project in 2006/2007. After the stop and put off of the project due to the avain flu, the Ministry extended the permission to 2007/2008.
Exploratory trip to Sweden
Again, some team members of the Operation Lesser Whitefront have visited the foreseen breeding area in Lapland. Furthermore, they made logistic arrangements, contacted relevant authorities, and tested the Polaris Trike, in particular the amphibian version, which can land on water.
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