Owl you need is love! Poznań owls swoop into Austria to help save population
Poznań Zoo’s reputation for action-based preservation initiatives has received another boost after the facility announced the latest departure of Ural Owls destined to be reintroduced into the wild as part of a wider, longer-term effort to save the species from extinction in Austria.
Having hit extinction in Austria around a century ago, numerous initiatives have been attempted to reintroduce the Ural Owl to this part of Europe with the Poznań project being among the most high profile.
Zoo director Ewa Zgrabczynska told TFN: “Zoos tend to be associated with close confinement and bad conditions, but that’s simply not true of modern zoos such as ours which are very focused on both the in-situ and ex-situ conservation of wildlife. This programme with the owls is a brilliant example of how we can work to protect natural fauna and endangered species.”
First beginning in 2013, the scheme has seen the zoo join forces with the Austrian Ornithological Center in Vienna to forge what Zgrabczynska describes as being “a beautiful collaboration”.
“I think we’ve demonstrated that while human action is often devastating for the environment,” says Zgrabczynska, “we are also in a position to really help the natural world – and the reintroduction of the Ural Owl is proof.
“The most beautiful part of our work is to restore animals to freedom,” she continues, “but this isn’t that easy to do. First, in the case of the owls, we have to prepare them for release and ensure they are able to nest, survive without our help and, most importantly, be able to hunt.”
Doing so has meant the creation of a custom-built re-acclimatization enclosure to which very young birds born in Poznań Zoo are relocated at 100-days of age. From there, only once keepers are satisfied as to their ability to thrive in non-controlled conditions are they transferred to Austria.
“In our Poznań enclosure they’re able to learn how to react to new stimuli,” says Zgrabczynska, “which is something that some birds learn quicker than others.”
Microchipped so as to follow their subsequent progress and exploratory behaviour, the birds – which are significantly larger than the common owl – are then released in two parts of Austria: the Wienerwald Biosphere Reserve and in the Durrenstein protected wildlife area. In all, just under 400 owls have been successfully relocated.
“We’ve been careful to ensure their high biological and genetic diversity as that’s an important condition to satisfy,” says Zgrabczynska, “and while we need a few more years to truly evaluate the project and say that the population has been rebuilt, the results have so far been very promising – those that we’ve released haven’t just reproduced successfully but are also functioning as typical birds that were born in the wild would.”
As welcome as this news is, it is not the first time that such bold re-introductory projects have been undertaken by Poznań Zoo. Previously, the institution has been credited for the crucial role it played in the revival of Białowieża’s celebrated bison herd.
More recently, meanwhile, storks raised in the zoo have also been shipped to Great Britain and Italy where they have aided.