Lesser White-fronted Geese in captivity - Svenska Jägareförbundet

Lesser White-fronted Geese in captivity

Since 2005, the Lesser White-fronted Goose Project has introduced a totally new direction in the breeding of geese. The old captive breeding stock was used until 1999. Today, the breeding and release of geese is entirely based on young birds that have been caught in the North-Western tundra in Russia. The birds are then transported to Sweden, where they eventually start to breed in captivity.

Two young geese caught on the Russian tundra, after arrival at Arlanda airport in 2007.

Since 2005, wild Russian geese constitute the base of the breeding populations in captivity. The birds are caught as young, in the North-Western tundra in Russia by goose researchers from the Russian Goose, Swan and Duck Group of North Eurasia. This is a challenging operation, as the areas visited are not easily accessible.

During the period 2005 – 2013, in total 59 young Lesser White-fronted Geese have been caught. After the field operation the birds are taken to Moscow Zoo, where they are held in quarantine to prevent possible diseases from being spread to other birds. Later, these birds are transported by plane to Sweden. Several documents by both countries are required, but ample support is given by the Swedish EPA and the Swedish Board of Agriculture as well as Russian authorities, which have been very helpful all this years.

John at Nordens Ark together with an adult Lesser White-fronted Goose.

When the geese have arrived in Sweden, project personnel collect them and make sure they are transported to Nordens Ark Zoo, where they once again are kept in quarantine. Their kinship is also analysed. Since the import of Russian birds started, no single bird has been injured during the long transport, which indicates that young Lesser White-fronted Geese are resilient birds. As soon as they are released from their cargo boxes, they start preening, eating and resting.

Although situated a long distance from the natural habitats of the birds, the breeding stations try to imitate wild conditions as much as possible. One important measure is to offer natural grazing areas. Even if food is always available, it is important for the bird to have access to grazing grounds and water as well as vegetation where they can hide. During wintertime they are offered access to indoor space or a heat lamp. But the Lesser white fronted geese, being used to Arctic conditions, almost always prefer to be outdoors, irrespective of weather conditions.

The female lays on the eggs in a protected corner of the breeding pen.

Outside the breeding season the geese tend to congregate in a large flock just as they would normally do in the wild. The flock also has an important function for the artificial breeding. Lesser White-fronted Geese are very picky in selecting their mate when it comes to pairing. When many geese are together, the chances of finding a suitable partner increase.

In the springtime when pair formation starts, a hectic period begins for those who are responsible for the artificial breeding procedures. Identifying established pairs requires careful scrutiny of the behaviour of the different geese in the flock. When a pair has been identified, the two birds are moved to a separate breeding pen to avoid disturbances from other geese.

The first contact with water for the gooslings takes place in shallow water.

If everything goes according to plan, the female finds a sheltered corner of the enclosure where the eggs are laid. The nest is often placed in high vegetation or under shelter coming from bushes or twigs that have been taken in to the pen. Most often the nest is constructed out of straw or dry grass that has been added to the pen. The male acts as males in the wild and starts guarding the female. When doing so, he watches for dangers from a strategic site often upright with an extended neck. During incubation recesses the male follows the female like a shadow.

When the young are hatched, they stay with both parents in the enclosure.

Goslings learn a lot from their parents, everything from behaviour and calls, to how to find food easily. The picture shows a Lesser White-fronted Goose family including about one week old goslings.

During the first days, the goslings are imprinted to their parents and during this period, human presence is avoided near the pen to avoid disturbances in this vital process in life. If the imprinting goes wrong, the young may have difficulties later in life to relate to wild conspecifics. There are many things young geese learn from their parents – not least how to behave towards other geese. In mid-July it is time for the young birds to be released in the mountainous area of Sweden. Read more about the release here

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2014-02-18 2014-02-19