Reduction of hunting
In order to re-inforce the remnant Fennoscandian breeding population on the short-term a number of programmes were started to re-introduce Lesser White-fronted geese. In the scope of these programmes Lesser Whitefronts were bred and raised in captivity and released in the natural habitat of the species. Such projects have been implemented in Sweden and Finland, but with different methods.
The Swedish re-introduction project
Under the lead of the late Lambart von Essen the Swedish Hunting Organisation (Svenska Jägareförbundet) started a re-introduction project of Lesser White-fronted Geese in 1979 in Swedish-Lapland. Aim of the project was to avoid the main threats by creating a new safe migration route to safe wintering grounds.
In 1981, WWF Sweden joined the project. It used semi-domestic Barnacle Geese (Branta leucopsis) as foster parents for Lesser White-fronted goslings, which by this way learned from their foster parents to migrate to safe wintering grounds in Western Europe. The eggs of semi-domestic Barnacle Geese, breeding in nature and migrating to wintering sites in the Netherlands, were replaced by eggs of a captive Lesser Whitefront breeding stock. After hatching the mixed family was caught and kept in captivity. Shortly before fledging the families were transported to Swedish Lapland, where they were released. In autumn the young Lesser Whitefronts were lead by their foster parents to the Netherlands to winter. In spring the mixed families returned to Sweden and separated. The Barnacle Geese stayed in their traditional breeding range in Middle-Sweden, whereas the young Lesser Whitefronts returned to the site where they were released, just as intended.
This Barnacle Goose method showed to function well and a new breeding population of Swedish Lesser White-fronted Geese has been established. Until 1999 more than 340 young geese were released. Today this population consists of about 100 birds, all migrating to the Netherlands to winter. Until 2004 about 40 sucessful breeding attempts have been observed. A total of about 110 young have fledged, e.g. about 3 juvenile/successful brood. This new population of Swedish White-fronts is currently slowly increasing.
A disadvantage of this method was that single Lesser White-fronts found breeding partners among the Barnacle Geese and not among their own species. As a result a number of hybrids have been observed.
The Finnish re-introduction project
In 1989 also WWF-Finland started a reintroduction programme for Lesser White-fronted Geese. In this project artificially bred young Lesser Whitefronts were released in the breeding area of the then remaining small wild Finnish population. No manipulation of migration routes was attempted. Until 1998 a total of 143 birds were released of which 123 were juveniles, five were 2nd calendar-year birds and 15 adults. The released groups were no families, but usually a family with a number of more or less adopted additional juveniles. It turned out that less than 10% of the released Lesser Whitefronts were reported back in Finnish Lapland and only one single individual was observed at the introduction area. These introduced birds seemed to suffer an extremely high annual mortality of about 80% in the first year and an average of 65% over 5 years. Until 1999 (and until today) no breeding pairs are reported. Hunting seems to be the main cause for the high mortality rate: 7 out of 10 marked project birds were shot.
How can the Lesser White-fronts survive?
The most important measures to protect the Lesser White-fronted Goose are a consequent protection of the staging areas and the reduction of mortality caused by hunting. As the last decade has shown, these measures can not be implemented in time to stop the steady decline of Lesser White-fronted Goose numbers. Especially the reduction of hunting mortality showed to be extremely difficult. It seems that hunting mortality in Lesser White-fronted Geese only could be reduced successfully, if hunting of the similar looking White-fronted Goose could be forbidden or at least reduced considerably. But a total or partial ban on hunting White-fronts does not seem very realistic in South-Eastern Europe for the years to come. This is why in addition to the previous conservation measures it is necessary to implement re-introduction programmes, like the Swedish project, which showed to be a good way to maintain the Lesser White-fronted Goose breeding population in Fennoscandia. But the method showed to have some constraints. Not only there is a considerable risk of hybridisation with the foster species, but the number of birds that can be re-introduced annually highly depends on the number of Barnacle Goose-"parents” that can be recruited each year. Due to this, the number of birds that can be re-introduced annually is rather low. For a successful re-introduction programme it would be necessary to release an annually much higher number of birds during a period of some subsequent years. To achieve this, new re-introduction methods have to be implemented in addition to the Swedish project.
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