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.
In addition, a huge information campaign for Italian hunters will be implemented in collaboration with major Italian hunting organizations. Furthermore, poachers who injure or kill Northern Bald Ibises will be identified, if possible, and sued for damages, so that the hunting pressure on migrating birds like the Northern Bald Ibis lifts and a permanent survival of this species is ensured.
Innovative Methods and techniques for conservation measures, the real-time monitoring and measures against the illegal hunting in Italy will be implemented, further developed and their implementation in context of other conservation projects will be encouraged. In the future, those measures shall also be also part of further projects for the reintroduction of the Northern Bald Ibis outside Europe, and of other species conservation projects in general.
In collaboration with experts, an extensive veterinary monitoring will be implemented, mainly to ensure the vitality and healthiness of the Northern Bald Ibis population. In addition, two main research topics will be attended to: the consequences of lead contaminations of the birds after non-lethal gunshot wounds, and the optimization of diagnoses of infectious diseases in wild birds.
The management of the zoo populations and the established populations will be optimized by genetic screenings to increase the genetic variability as much as possible.
By Public Relations and international media reports the recognition of Northern Bald Ibises will be improved, therefore establishing them as model species for the conservation of species, the threat of migrating birds due to the illegal hunting, the importance of sustainable land use and the value of biodiversity.