Northern Bald Ibis Project

Parco Natura Viva contributes to the safeguarding of the Northern bald ibis, or Northern bald ibis, in its natural habitat throughout various initiatives. On one side Parco Natura Viva carries out scientific dissemination activities and raises awareness on the LIFE+ project “Reason for Hope” and on another side it breeds individuals that can be reintroduced in the wild thanks to the Spanish initiative “Proyecto Eremita”.
The EU funded LIFE+ project “Reason for Hope” on the Northern bald ibis, coordinated by the Austrian association “Förderverein Waldrappteam", is the first science-based attempt of reintroduction of a migratory species in its area of origin. The aim of the project is to restore the migratory route of the Northern bald ibis from the breeding quarters in Germany and Austria to the wintering area in Tuscany. Parco Natura Viva represents the only Italian Partner of this important project dedicated to teaching young ibises, born and raised in controlled environment, the possible migratory route towards the WWF Oasis “Laguna di Orbetello”. In the wild, young ibises learn the migratory route by following their parents, thus a specific programme was developed allowing birds to follow humans during the flight. Thanks to imprinting, the attachment that some animal species develop towards the first figure seen after birth, the humans become their foster parents and they lead the animals through the migration aboard an ultralight aircraft.  So, the birds following in flight these foster parents aboard an ultralight aircraft. The journey starts from the breeding area of Burghausen, in Germany, and of Kuchl, in Austria, until Orbetello. This way, the ibises learn the migratory route and in springtime they will return to the breeding areas by themselves. So, the Northern bald ibis can form a wild population that is able to migrate alone between the breeding sites in the North and the wintering areas in the South. At the same time, the project carries out scientific research to improve the knowledge of this species in order guarantee a safe survival in the wild to the reintroduced individuals. Lastly, the project also conducts an information campaign directed at hunters since illegal hunting has been and still is the main threat to the survival of this species.
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Parco Natura Viva actively contributes also to the initiative “Proyecto Eremita” that, starting from 2003 thanks to the initiative of the Zoobotánico Jerez in collaboration with the Spanish Ministry of Environment, is dedicated to the reintroduction of this species. The project aims at creating a permanent, stable and self-sufficient colony of Northern bald ibis in the area of La Janda, on the Spanish Atlantic coast near Cadiz. The first reintroductions were carried out with individuals born in controlled environment and hand-raised using the foster parents’ method already experimented by the Konrad Lorenz Institute in Austria. A total of 11 Northern bald ibis born in Parco Natura Viva was released in Spain thanks to this project, contributing to the growth of the colony. The project is giving encouraging results and throughout the years, the number of couples that are nesting on the coast is increasing.

With 50% contribution of the LIFE financial instrument of the European Union (LIFE+12-BIO_AT_000143)
The Northern bald ibis (Geronticus eremita) is classified as “Critically Endangered” in the IUCN Red List. The wild population has undergone a progressive decline throughout the centuries, also due to natural causes. However, in more recent times, the population has suffered a decline that seems to be the result of a combination of different factors, with many threats that impend over the different populations. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the Northern Bald Ibis has been divided into two disjointed populations: the western population in Morocco and the eastern population in Syria and Turkey. In Morocco the main threats are represented by illegal buildings, disturbance near the nesting sites and changes in agricultural techniques used in the feeding areas. On the other hand, hunting represents the main threat to the small Syrian population, whereas in Turkey the threat that prevails is pesticide poisoning. In Central Europe, the Northern bald ibis was present until the 17th Century, before becoming extinct due to hunting pressures.
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With 50% contribution of the LIFE financial instrument of the European Union (LIFE+12-BIO_AT_000143)
Parco Natura Viva has been hosting for years a breeding group of Northern bald ibis. A few years ago, the park built them a new aviary in the area dedicated to the European wildlife, next to the European bison exhibit. This aviary holds the necessary features to allow the ibis to breed in a controlled environment. Indeed, the colony hosted breeds regularly, allowing to enlarge the number of individuals included in the EEP ex situ conservation programme.
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With 50% contribution of the LIFE financial instrument of the European Union (LIFE+12-BIO_AT_000143)

Parco Natura Viva celebrates every year the World Migratory Bird Day on the 11th of May, and the Northern bald ibis is this event’s ambassador. In this occasion the park organises educational activities and not only, to tell visitors about the Northern bald ibis conservation project that sees Parco Natura Viva as the only Italian partner, and to raise awareness of the threats faced not only by this species by also by other migratory birds.


Parco Natura Viva contributed to the realisation of a new sail for the ultralight aircraft used for this year’s man-led migration of a group of Northern bald ibis from the Austrian Alps to Orbetello’s lagoon. This is the 6th man-led migration of Northern bald ibis and it ended on the 28th of August with 29 individuals arriving to Orbetello together with their foster parents. The flight lasted 12 dates and more than 1800 km were travelled, divided into 5 stages. As of today, 150 individuals of Northern bald ibis are equipped with a GPS tracker and are monitored at their wintering site; part of them next spring will be able to make the migration route in the opposite direction independently.

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This year a total of 62 Northern bald ibises went back to the breeding sites on their own; 21 during the spring migration, whereas 41 during the autumn one. The fifth man-led migration, the fastest of all, was completed on the early afternoon of the 28th of August, when 29 Northern bald ibises and their foster parents reached the Orbetello’s lagoon at the end of the fifth and last stop, after flying for 5 hours and 19 minutes. The journey lasted 13 days in total and it started on the shore of the Lake Costanza, led the flock across the Alps and south along the Po Valley, and lastly turned to the west, through the Apennines to Maremma.

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At the end of 2017, the reintroduced population of migratory Northern Bald Ibis consisted of 84 individuals. For the first time, 31 Northern bald ibises were raised by the two foster parents as one big group. The man-led migration started on the 14th of August from Überlingen. For the first time the route flew over the Alberg region and the Passo di Resia, through Merano and Bolzano until reaching the Po Valley. After crossing the Apennines, 30 ibises reached the wintering area in Tuscany.
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Four Nothern bald ibis born in Parco Natura Viva were donated to “Proyecto Eremita” and released in Spain, within the project dedicated to establishing a permanent colony in the La Janda area.
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On the 19th of August, the 2016 man-led migration began: the first stop was at Bramberg am Wildkogel, where all ibises landed after covering 170 km in 3 hours and 15 minutes flight, with a maximum speed of 78 km/h. A couple of golden eagles attacked the ibises during the flight, but they behaved correctly and after the attack all the birds reunited safely! After 4 days, during the next migratory phase, 3 ibises got lost: Mali, Giulietta and Cenerella. The flock stopped in Campo di Volo “Fant Air Club” in Belluno: the birds lost some weigh during the last flight, and for this reason it was important to give them enough time to recover in order to face the next part of the journey that will bring them to Valle Gaffaro. Cenerella was found, whereas Mali and Giulietta were still lost. On the 14th of September, the 2016 man-led migration ended successfully: after 26 days of flight and over 1,000 kilometres travelled, the Northern bald ibises reached the destination of the WWF Oasis “Laguna di Orbetello”.
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Despite the delay due to fog, the man-led migration started on the 22nd of August: the Northern bald ibises, together with their foster parents, left Seekirchen and reached the aviation camp of Mauterndorf, travelling 118 km in 2 hours and 30 minutes. After 5 days of rest due to the bad weather conditions, 30 ibises left Muaterndorf. After few kilometres, 10 birds went back, so it was necessary to retrieve them back and take them to the next stop by car. With the other birds, the team made a wonderful flight, reaching a maximum height of 2,500 meters and finally arriving in Italy, near the Tagliamento river. After a 3-day stop, 26 ibises followed their foster parents until Valle Gaffaro. Two birds returned to the previous stop shortly after the beginning of the journey, whereas other two left the group after few kilometres. On the 6th of September, weather conditions were optimal to fly: the ibises and their foster parents reached a speed of over 70 km/h thanks to the fair wind, and an altitude of 1,500 metres taking advantage of an ascending current. Two days after, 28 ibises landed in the WWF Oasis “Laguna di Orbetello”.
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For the 5th edition of the National Congress on Research in Park, Parco Natura Viva hosted the “Reason for Hope Festival” in collaboration with the Jane Goodall Institute Italia and with an exceptional guest: Jane Goodall. During this emotional event an important target was reached: an agreement on the protection of the Northern Bald Ibis was signed with the two most important Italian hunting associations. The parties support the sustainable reintroduction of the Northern Bald Ibis in Europe and promote common initiatives against the illegal hunting in Italy, especially during the autumn migration.
During this year, 7 young ibises born in Parco Natura Viva were destined to “Proyecto Eremita”. After leaving the park, they were transferred to Spain and released in the area of La Janda, in order to contribute to the formation of a permanent colony of Northern Bald Ibis near Cadiz.
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The Max- Planck Institut für Ornithologie in Radolfzell (Germany) developed 20 g solar transmitters for the Northern Bald Ibis, that register the position of the birds every hour and send the data once a day to the database Movebank. Both scientists and interested people can follow the movements of the monitored birds thanks to the Animal Tracker app.
The Northern bald ibis flies on Nature! Thanks to the LIFE+ project, some researchers were able to follow closely the birds during the migration, collecting all necessary data for a study on the V-shaped flight formation. With this data, a scientific article was written, and it was not only published on Nature, one of the most prestigious scientific journals, but won earned the front page!
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In August 2013, the Waldrappteam conservation project on the Northern bald ibis signed the grant agreement in the context of the European Union LIFE+ programme (LIFE+12-BIO_AT_000143). The project is supported by 8 partners from Germany, Austria and Italy, within which Parco Natura Viva, and has the aim of reintroducing this extinct migratory bird species in Europe before the end of 2019. The project is based upon the experiences of a twelve- year- long feasibility study of the species conservation project of the Waldrappteam. Key aspects are the execution of extensive measures against the illegal hunting of Northern Bald Ibis in Italy.
Parco Natura Viva is the only Italian Zoological Park that takes part to this project and economically supports it, contributing also to the breeding of this species and by raising awareness of the visitors on the safeguard of this species. The park has an important role in the campaign against illegal hunting, since the killing by poachers in Italian soil represents one of the greatest threats to the survival of the Northern Bald Ibis.

With 50% contribution of the LIFE financial instrument of the European Union (LIFE+12-BIO_AT_000143)
If you are interested in this project and you want to help saving the Northern bald ibis and its habitat, there are different ways in which you can contribute. By participating to the activities organized by Parco Natura Viva, such as guided tours, educational workshops and the World Migratory Bird day, you can learn more about this species and the threats to its survival, also learning what behaviours to adopt in everyday life to protect their habitat. By adopting the park’s Northern bald ibis you will directly contribute to help finance this project; but even with your visit to the park you will be able to make a concrete contribution to conservation, since a percentage of the value of the admission ticket is always destined to in situ conservation projects. Finally, by making other people aware of the problems of animals in the wild, you can actively help spread the knowledge and guarantee a future for the Northern bald ibis in its natural environment.
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With 50% contribution of the LIFE financial instrument of the European Union (LIFE+12-BIO_AT_000143)