The northern bald ibis (Geronticus eremita) is classified as endangered in the IUCN Red List. This migratory bird species was originally distributed over Northern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and a large part of Europe. In Europe, the northern bald ibis went extinct in the Middle Ages. The remaining migratory populations outside Europe disappeared in the recent past. In the wild, only two sedentary colonies persisted on the Atlantic coast of Morocco within a limited geographical range. In the past, the northern bald ibis bred along the northern foothills of the Alps, and presumably in southern Spain, in the Upper Adriatic Region and in Bulgaria. Historic and genetic findings suggest a long-lasting presence of the northern bald ibis in Europe. Based on this historic evidence, a feasibility study on the reintroduction of the species was initiated in 2002. After 12 years of ecological, behavioural, and methodological research, in accordance with the IUCN Guidelines for Reintroductions, the reintroduction started with a first LIFE project (LIFE12 BIO/AT/000143). This was the first promising attempt to reintroduce a continentally extinct migratory species. In 2019, the population consisted of 142 successfully rewilded individuals. Out of the four breeding colonies established in the previous LIFE project, two are self-sustaining considering their net population growth. All colonies use the same common wintering site in southern Tuscany (Italy).
The LIFE NBI project aims to establish a self-sustaining population of northern bald ibis (Geronticus eremita) that migrate to a common wintering site in Tuscany (Italy).
Specifically, the project aims to:
- Reduce mortality through illegal hunting in Italy by optimising and expanding preventive and post-poaching measures, as well as launching a comprehensive flagship campaign with positive side-effects for other endangered migratory species;
- Reduce mortality through electrocution on power lines including launching a comprehensive flagship campaign;
- Create synergies with policy areas regarding biodiversity threats - using the northern bald ibis as a flagship species for awareness raising activities and related lobbying measures against illegal hunting in Italy and electrocution in Austria;
- Create synergies with policy areas regarding habitat protection - driving the reassessment of the northern bald ibis status in the European Red List (currently listed as regionally extinct);
- Increase the knowledge of local farmers in breeding areas on management-related needs and benefits of the northern bald ibis and topic-related incentives for sustainable and organic farming through the rural development measures of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP);
- Performing transfer and replication measures - hosting three replication workshops regarding innovative methods on the project.
- Increase in the population size of the northern bald ibis in the project area to ≥357 migratory individuals;
- Establishment of three new breeding colonies and one satellite colony, located both north and south of the Alps;
- Reduced mortality rate due to illegal hunting in Italy, from currently 31% of all casualties to below 25%;
- Reduced mortality rate due to electrocution on medium-voltage power poles, from currently 45% of all casualties to below 38%;
- Retrofitting of about 160 power poles at three main feeding sites in Austria;
- Driving the implementation of the Italian National Plan against Illegal Threats to Wild Birds, and the inclusion of a region along the Tyrrhenian Coast as a new target area; and
- Driving the implementation of a systemic solution against electrocution as a specific measure into the Austrian Biodiversity Strategy 2030, which will also benefit other bird species.