Researchers in Bulgaria have taken the largest ever catch of Endangered red-breasted geese and fitted satellite tracking devices in a bid to unlock one of the biggest mysteries of the natural world.
Just over ten years ago, more than 50,000 of the small, brightly coloured geese seemingly disappeared from their wintering grounds along the Black Sea coast in Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine.
Coordinated international counts have not since recorded a significant increase, leaving scientists speculating whether the missing geese – half the world population – have relocated to unknown sites in southwest Asia or fallen foul of hunting, development and changes in farming.
Teams from the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) and the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB) caught 91 red-breasted geese and fitted 11 tags to follow the birds’ individual movements along their 6,000 km migration to breeding grounds in Arctic Russia.
But conservationists working to save the red-breasted goose are being realistic about the chances of rediscovering the ‘lost’ population. The data gathered will also help conservationists work with farmers, planners and developers in Bulgaria.
Peter Cranswick, Head of Species Recovery at WWT, has been at the heart of the international effort to catch and tag the geese. He said:
“Almost overnight, we were unable to account for around half the world’s red-breasted geese. The reasons are still unclear and we are tracking these individual birds to find out more.
“The data we get will be invaluable to our work with local communities in Bulgaria – the farmers, shooters and landowners – to work out how we support the remaining geese, while still meeting their needs.
“It is also possible that, as the climate has changed, some birds have started to winter further east. We hope our tagged birds will reveal as yet unknown sites, so we can assess their importance and – if necessary – ensure their protection.”
- The project ‘Safe Ground for Redbreasts’ LIFE09/NAT/BG/000230 is funded the contribution of the LIFE financial instrument of the European Community.
- 91 red-breasted geese Branta ruficollis and 28 white-fronted geese Anser albifrons were caught on 8 February 2013 near Ezerets, in the Shabla Municipality of north-east Bulgaria.
- Two red-breasted geese were fitted with satellite tags that it is hoped will follow their migration to their summer breeding grounds in Arctic Russia and back next winter. Nine birds were fitted with GPS data loggers which provide fixes of the birds’ locations every two hours while the birds are in Bulgaria. These data will underpin conservation tools being developed as part of a major conservation project on the species in Bulgaria.
- The birds were caught as part of an EU project ‘Safe Ground for Redbreasts’ LIFE09/NAT/BG/000230, funded bv the contribution of the LIFE financial instrument of the European Community.
- This is a collaborative project between the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB), Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), Kirilovi Ltd (a local farming cooperative) and the Hunting and Angling Association of Shabla.
- WWT and the BSPB have been working on the study and conservation of red-breasted geese in their main wintering grounds in Bulgarian Dobrudzha for eight years.
- The Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB) is Bulgaria’s first and biggest non-governmental organization, working for the conservation of wild birds, their habitats and biodiversity in general.
- The satellite tags were funded by the BBC Wildlife Fund (UK) and private donations.