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


Keep up: A flock of Northern Bald Ibis follows the scientists' microlight on an 841-mile journey across Alpine Europe

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.

Adoption: Students Stefanie Heese and Daniela Trobe took to the skies with a flock of the rare birds, having raised them from birth

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.

Soaraway success: Some of the young Ibis glide towards their Italian feeding ground, where their species had not been seen for 300 years due to hunting

From first light until sundown the two were on hand to cater to the baby birds' every need - from feeding them as chicks through to grooming them and then later teaching them how to survive in the wild.
Educational games such as hunting worms together were designed to expand the birds' interest in the world around them, training them in how to find food on their own.
And in the final six weeks, the birds' education culminated in flight training.

You've come a long way: The endangered species, seen here with its black shock of a crest and opalescent feathers, lived in Europe for 1.8million years

Every day the two students would lead the birds to a microlight plane and would then practice flying and gliding over the Austrian Alps in Salzburg, in preparation for the long migratory flight to Tuscany.
Finally, last October the pair accompanied their 16 charges as they made the 841-mile journey to their winter feeding ground in Italy.

Keeping tabs: One of the team of scientists checks an electronic tracking device designed to help them protect the birds from hunters

Three support vehicles tracked them over 36 days, and every day they stopped at a prearranged spot where the ground crew would provide food to keep the birds' strength up.
Dr Fritz initiated the project a decade ago after working with the birds as part of research project organised by the Conrad Lawrence Research Centre.

Fossil records show that the Northern Bald Ibis, regarded as a critically endangered species, had been present in Europe for 1.8 million years until it vanished 300 years ago - and now thanks to the work of Dr Fritz not just one but three breeding colonies have been re-established in Alpine Europe.

Protected: The unusual-looking birds have been categorised as a critically-endangered species, making it illegal for hunters to shoot them

source: dailymail