Monday, 19 March 2012

Microlight mother: Critically-endangered birds spread their wings with help of scientist who made sure he was first thing hatched chicks saw

For the first time in 300 years, a batch of Northern Bald Ibis chicks struggled out of their eggs and on to European soil.

The first face they saw was not that of their mother, but an Austrian biologist with a penchant for flying.

The critically endangered species lived in Europe for 1.8 million years before it was wiped out by hunters, but it has now been reintroduced in three locations by Dr Johannes Fritz, a bird lover who showed them the way using a microlight.

Dr Fritz used a technique known as imprinting to build a bond with the birds, making sure he was the first thing the rare Ibis chicks saw when they hatched.

And, having gained their trust, he then persuaded the birds to follow him in his aircraft between their feeding grounds in Tuscany and the Austrian and German Alps.

He said: 'We now have the birds established in three mountain locations. It's a great success - but we are counting the days now until the first birds return after running the gauntlet of hunters.'

Last year German student Stefanie Heese, 25, and Austrian student Daniela Trobe, 29, took six months off from university to act as parents to the latest new arrivals.

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