The Northern Bald Ibis is a migratory bird which was native in Central Europe until the 17th century, before it became extinct due to the huge hunting pressure. Today the Northern Bald Ibis is one of the most endangered bird species worldwide. In the context of an EU project (LIFE+ Biodiversity), with partners in Austria, Italy and Germany, the species is to be reintroduced in Europe.
The main project objective is the reintroduction of the critically endangered Northern Bald Ibis (Geronticus eremita) as migratory bird in Europe to ensure the survival of this bird in its specific life-form. The project is based upon a twelve-year-long feasibility study in accordance with the IUCN guidelines, in whose context a small, migratory breeding colony has already developed. Experimental surveys and long-time experiences with free flying Northern Bald Ibises show that lots of proper habitats exist in Europe, where those birds may live without conflicts with other species, including men. Eight partners from three different countries (Austria, Germany and Italy) participate in this project to found breeding colonies of Northern Bald Ibises in Burghausen (Bavaria), Kuchl (Salzburg) and Überlingen (Baden-Württemberg). Those colonies will use a common migration route to the wintering area in Southern Tuscany (WWF Oasi Laguna di Orbetello).
Until 2019, we aim to reach a population size of minimum 120 birds to exceed the minimum number of birds necessary for an independently viable population (Minimum Viable Population Size). Therefore, from 2014 on, six human-led migrations with hand-raised young birds will be conducted. The necessary number of chicks will be provided by the two sedentary colonies in Austria as well as by zoos. Since 2011, sexually mature Northern Bald Ibises also provide new offspring. By supplementing the breeding colonies with adult birds from zoos – which are removed after breeding and upbringing their young – and with independent, captive young birds, the number of birds following experienced fellows to the south is increased. Some of those naturally raised and human-led Ibises have already passed on their experience in migrating to the next generation.
By selective monitoring and management, the losses of Northern Bald Ibises due to the illegal hunting (the largest mortality factor) shall be reduced. The whereabouts of the birds are permanently monitored by using GPS trackers, especially during the migration flights. By means of the so-called Live-Tracking and an application for computers and smartphones, the current positions of selected birds will be published.