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2002 - No. 2

june 2002

Other issues:

In this issue:

Editor's note: Reason to celebrate

(Lauri Kahanpää)

There is reason to celebrate. We celebrate an all time high LWfG gosling number in Hämeenkoski: while I am writing this, 43 vintage 2002 goslings are alive and well at the Farm. Our work has not been in vain - the new facilities are good places for Lesser White-fronted Geeese to live in.

For a change, there is good news from other placees, too. Above all, we enjoy hearing of the founding of our sister organization: "Aktion Zwerggans" in Germany. They are already busy breeding LWfG, starting their genetical testing, and preparing for re-introduction using the ultra-light aircraft method invented by Bill Lishman in Canada and successfully tested by Christian Moullec on LWfG.

Our own geese have proven to be genetically suitable for re-introduction purposes, and there has been progress in the direction of continuing re-introduction in Sweden, also. So we can face the Future with confidence in spite of the few stories in this issue that still mirror some of the problems that ewe had to deal with in the past. Let us all - geese and humans alike - celebrate a wonderful Midsummer party.


Lesser White-fronts in Northern Europe


Väitös kiljuhanhista Oulun yliopistossa

(Lauri Kahanpää)

At Oulu University, Minna Ruokonen defended her thesis on LWfG genetics in april. The Friends congratulate the new Doctor of Philosophy. The full text of her thesis is available in pdf format behind this Link.

Content of the Thesis

Ruokonen has studied mitochondria of about one hundread LWfG samples around the Palearctic. She classified them into 14 haplotypes, and found differences in their abundancies between samples from different geographical locations. Since all LWfG populations look and behave similarly, his is the only known indication for differences between populations of LWfG.

Some ten Norwegian birds were examined. All except one had the same type of mitochondria. More than a dozen captive birds from the old Hailuoto farm were also studied. Their mitochondria represented various West-Asian and European types. Surprisingly, four of them carried mitochondria of the (Greater) White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons).

Our Comments

In contrast to chromosomes, mitochondria are inherited in a strictly maternal line, so every goose carries exactly the mitochondria of its mother. Minna Ruokonen's findings imply that some grand-...grand mother of these birds must have been a GWfG, but there is no indication of how far we must go to find her.

Anatidae are well known to hybridize easily and to produce fertile hybrids, so there is a continuous flow of genes between species. From the point of wiew of re-stocking, knowing these things is more than interesting. Above all, since it is almost impossible to get new birds from nature, we must know how much GWfG DNA exists in the chromosomes of the farm birds. This is crucial, since the chromosomes carry the genes, and unknown, since the genes in chromosomes are inherited very differently from mitochondriae. Therefore, both LWfG and GWfG chromosomes have been thoroughly studied in Sweden and Russia. Some preliminary - and comforting - results are published in this bulletin.

In the final chapter of her thesis, Minna Ruokonen expresses her opinion on the issue of re-stocking. According to her, these molecular biological findings are a sufficient reason to stop the program for good, an opinion she has defended already before carrying out these studies. We expect to learn more from the new analyses.


Analyses of the captive populations of the Lesser White-fronted Goose

(Marina Kholodova)

Some genetic characteristics of a group of captive Lesser White- fronted (LWFG) (A. erythropus) geese from the LWFG Farm from Finland was analysed and results were compared with some samples of wild LWFG and Greater White- fronted (GWFG) (Anser albifrons).

The hypervariable fragment (domain I) of the control region of mt DNA(length 300-282 bp.) was investigated in 25 captive LWFG and the haplotypes were compared with the original data from wild LWFG (3 samples from Polar Ural) and GWFG (1 sample from Arkhangel'sky region, Kanin) and also with data from GenBank. In the group of analysed captive LWFG 5 birds with haplotypes close to mt haplotypes of GWFG were found.

We also carried out the RAPD-PCR analyses with 3 primers (two of 10 bp and 1 of 15 bp) with the DNA from the samples of captive and wild LWFG and GWFG. In general the RAPD-PCR patterns of captive LWFG were much more close to the patterns of wild LWFG than to GWFG. What is interesting that among the analysed LWFG, which has the GWFG mt haplotypes, the RAPD-PCR patterns were close to LWFG type. These results support the prediction that total DNA of the analysed captive LWFGs were close to the wild LWFG DNA.

We also carried out the SSCP analyses of the short fragment of sex chromosome genes, but the preliminary results shown very similar pictures in unisex groups of both species.


Dr. Marina V. Kholodova
A.N.Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution , RAS Moscow, Russia



News from Öster-Malma

(Lauri Kahanpää)

In June, I made a short trip to Öster-Malma, where the Swedish hunter's organization, Jägareförbundet, runs their LWfG farm. There I could witness some results of the decisions made by the Swedish Project after receiving results of the Swedish LWfG gene tests. In Sweden, all captive LWfG have been gene-tested, the tests involving DNA sequences from both mitochondriae and chromosomes.

The 18 geese carrying mitochondriae of Greater White-fronted Goose (A. albifrons) type have been removed from the Öster-Malma stock. Those eremaining have been classified into two categories according to findings in their chromosomes. Therefore, and also due to testing some less suitable breeding methods involving the separation of pairs, this year's output of goslings was unfortunately very low - only half a dozen goslings survive. The Swedish policy has been to "clean" the captive stock of unwanted genes even on the cost of incresed inbreeding, possibly hoping to get fresh birds from Norway or even Western Russia later. The Swedish re-introduction Project will now experience another delay, but their main goal remains the same: Sweden continues its efforts to create a self-sustaining west-migrating population of these birds!

In August, a Scandinavian meeeting will be held in Stockjholm. If things go well, this could be a step towards creating a unified all-scandinavian project.


News around Eurasia


The new German project

(Lauri Kahanpää)

In Germany, a society called "Aktion Zwerggans" has been founded. Their goals are almost identical to ours: Protection of the LWfG world-wide as well as re-introduction of the species in Europe creating west-bound migration routes. Our German sister organization is already successfully collecting funds and intends to start re-introductions in 2003 using ultra light aircraft as guides. They also breed geese already, and are collecting samples for gene-tests.


The main site of the German Project, the biological research and environmental centre in Wesel, lies in the Rhine river valley close to the border to the Netherlands, surrounded by large areas of meadows which serve as wintering grounds for tens of thousands of geese. Among them are some LWfG - mostly observed in the natural reserve called Bisliche Insel, where the first experimaental flock guided by Christian Moullec landed in 1999. For more details on that flight, see

When I visited the place in April, Dr. Johan Mooij, leader of the Wesel reserves and institute told me that our sister organization intends to breed or buy up to a hundred genetically checked LWfG goslings annually to be re-introduced into Lapland. To accomlish this, all Europe should join forces with them. For more details, see


Breeding and flying are being tested in Germany already.


The Friends of the LWfG co-operate with the German Project offering their expertice in LWfG farming and genetic testing as well as some goslings, their numbers depending on our breeding success and the demands of our own re-introduction program.



Focus on the Caspian Sea

(Erkki Kellomäki)

THE CASPIAN SEA REGION is very important for the migratory water birds from Western Siberia and North Eastern Europe as well. Millions of water birds winter or stop for replenishing energy resources during the period of after-wintering on the coastal wetlands of the southern Caspian Sea and unfreezing water reservoirs of the Caspian countries &endash; in Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan. Among them is a group of rare, particularly protected water birds. The Lesser White-fronted Goose (Anser erythropus) is one of them.

During last few decades the world population of the Lesser White-fronted Goose have decreased until its one-fifth. At present the number of this goose have been estimated around 15,000 to 20,000 individuals. About half of them migrate to or through Caspian region. How many of them stay here for wintering &endash; is unknown. The reasons for the dramatic come-down of the Lesser White&endash;fronted Goose have been identified only by general outline: a decline of useful biotopes on the wintering grounds as a result of intensive agricultural development because of rapidly growing human population in the region; the increase of hunting pressure; disturbance both on the breeding grounds and along the flyway and on the wintering grounds; the transformation of the wetlands of Caspian coastal zone as a result of the water level fluctuations of the Caspian Sea.

During the 20th century, the water level of the Caspian Sea has undergone considerable changes. The water level has gone down 2.5 m in period from 1937 to 1978, but since then the level has gone up rapidly. Already in 1996 the level came back to the foregoing point. So, during the eighteen years the water level has risen by 2.5 meters! The fluctuations have had a great impact on the ecological situation in the Caspian basin. Many bird species have been benefited but very many, the Lesser White&endash;fronted Goose and the Red-breasted Goose among them lost their strongholds.

Scientists from the Caspian Sea countries are deeply concerned about the alarming state of the Lesser White-fronted Goose. They have decided to prepare by means of International co-operation and financing a new joint project "Focus on the Caspian Sea" for accelerating protection measures of the species. The aim of the planned project is firstly to create a monitoring program and network in the region and secondly to compile national Action Plans for the protection of the Lesser White-fronted Goose. Third and most difficult phase is to implement conservation measures in practise.

The first draft of the Action Plan in Russian language has been presented in the Conference of the Russian Goose and Swan Study Group (RGG) in Moscow, on 25th to 27th January 2001. The second English version has been presented in the 6th Annual Meeting of the Goose Specialist Group of Wetlands International at Roosta in Estonia, on 27th April to 2nd May 2001. Next Edition will be published in Russian and English by the end of year 2002.


Kellomaki, E., Ripatti, N. & Syroechkovsky, E. (eds.): Focus on the Caspian Sea. A Regional Action Plan for Protection of the Lesser White-fronted Goose (Anser erythropus). &endash; Bulletin of the Regional Environmental Agency of Hame, Finland. No 21 &endash; 2001.




Conferences 2001


Wetlands International's Goose Specialist Group met in Roosta (Estonia) 27.4.&endash;1.5.2001

(Lauri Kahanpää and Antti Ripatti)


The writers particpated in Wetlands International's Goose Specialist meeting, a very well organized conference in a nice holiday resort, Roosta in Western Estonia. During 5 days of talks, discussions and an excursion to famous Matsalu Bay (where we saw some LWfG) we had the opportunity to learn a lot of Palearctic Geese. We owe a lot of gratitude towards the host instituion (the Environmental Protection Institute of the Estonian Agricultural University) and to the organizer Aivar Leito and his competent and very friendly team.

The Proceedings of the Conference have been published in february 2002.

Our own talk on the future of the Scandinavian LWfG

Lauri Kahanpää presented his mathematical model to predict the growth of the Swedish re-introduced population under a few different estiamtes of the parameters. Their number will grow slowly: If only 20-30 goslings are set free annually, it will take 50 years to reach 600 breeding pairs, but doubling the goslings will more than halve this time. Even larger numbers are preferable. The original east-migrating Norwegioan geese are dying out at a rate of 5 % a year, numbering about 50 by now.

In the discussion after the talk it was pointed out, that taking into account random effects will reveal a high probability for an even faster katastrophe in Norway. This did not affect the opinions of opponents to re-introduction, representatives of the Finnish and Norwegian WWF.

Other talks

The Bar-headed Goose Project

Dr. Alexander Yakovlev from Kyrgyzstan presented in russian his re-stocking project of the Bar-headed Goose (Anser indicus) in Kyrgyzstan. See his story in this Bulletin! Since his Project resemles our own, and is run on a very thin financial basis, the Friends of the Lesser White-fronted goose adopted Yakovlev's Project as a partner. By selling T-shirts to support him, we were able to collect ressources to ruyn the Project for one more year, and to buy a second hand KOWA telescope.

LWfG Task Force had another stormy meeting

The Task Force meeting was held in three time intervals during two days. The Friends of the LWfG have no representation in the Task Force, but interested outsiders have traditionally the right to attend the meetings. Johan Mooij showed Christian and Paola Moullec's movie on the use of an ultralight aircraft to guide LWfG to a safe wintering place from Sweden to Germany, and Ingar Øien presented another film on the last Norwegian birds.

The Task Force, chaired by Petteri Tolvanen and Ingar Øien, updated the list of recommended ways of action to protect the LWfG. Our activities are directly influenced buy the decision to keep genetical inspection of farm birds a first class priority, and to remove re-introduction from the list until the gene test results are available. Caspian affairs were concentrated to Dr. Kellomäki's team.

The third meeting was short, byt ugly. Without having told others in advance, the Chairman and Secretary suddenly fired Dr. Erkki Kellomäki from the Task Force on formal grounds. (When being elected he had been suggested by the Russians, not the Finns. This, the Chairman said, was against the rules of the Task Force. No "rules" were distributed.) The Russian members protested. No vote was organized. Evidently, Kellomäki's "sin" is his support for the re-introduction programmes, which are opposed by Misters Tolvanen and Øien. Immediately afterwards, the Chairman and Secretary announced their willingness to cooperate with Dr. Kellomäki (whom they just had called a "notoriuous liar") and with all, who are seriously protecting the LWfG, and suggested a minute's silence in honour and memory of the originator of the re-introduction programmes, the late Dr. Lambart von Essen. After having elected a few new members - only asking those for national recommendations, who were known to support re-stockings - they announced their willingness to continue as Chair and Sec, and closed the meeting - Lunch!

The Task Force has by now abandoned its role as a joint forum for represetatives of different countries and ideas, able to give well founded recommendations. Thus two or more independent groups now act independently on the top level, and that is very regrettable indeed, since the joint authority of all involved should be used instead to rescue the remaining birds.


Farms and Zoos


Lesser White-fronts in Zoos World Wide

Summary: (Lauri Kahanpää)

Mr. Andrei V. Kotkin is a journalist and an ornithologist, who has collected data of captive waterfowl. He has not just studied the available litertature and surfed the internet, but has himself visited counltess zoos on his annual long bicycle tours though Europe. We publish some highlights of his talk and of discussions with him at the RGG Conference in Moscow.

There seem to be less than 60 LWfG in the oficial zoos of the world. This can be compared with the 100 individuals at our farm, and a similar number in Öster-Malma. In addition, there are birds at private parks and in the hands of commercial bird breeders.

Some results (Andrei V. Kotkin)

I have collected data on zoo waterfowl from the last 30 years. The numbers in official lists fluctuate surprisingly much from year to year, giving an impression of gaps in the data collection. This impression is confirmed by my direct observations, in particular some small zoos or even obscure bird-parks hold LWfG without writing annual reports. But one can compare different years or decades, and there is a clear trend downwards in the number of recorded captive LWfG: In the seventies, an annual average of 9.3 zoos were reported to hold LWfG, inthe next decade the number was almnost the same, 10,1. But in the nineties no more than an average of 6,5 zoos reported LWfG.

The relative reproduction speed of zoo birds has constantly stayed at the average of three to four young geese / zoo and year. These statistics hide the yield of an average of 50 gosligs in each of the best three consecutive years in the eighties and only 6 (six!) in 1996.

The LWfG is not a very spectsacular zoo bird, and it seems to me, zoos must - as they become more and more dependent of their enrtance fees - concentrate on animals that have a stronger appeal to the public. But we should not forget the value of zoos as gene banks of endangered species.


The Society


Artist of the year 2002: Pekka Saikko

(Lauri Kahanpää)

The Friends thank those who have contributed to our work by more than the equivalent of 200 EUR, by donating a high class signed and nubered print of a LWfG painting. A series of Finnish artists have painted them and donated the copyright to the society. The paintings will be published annually, the two first were the work of the artists Auvo Taivalvuo and Kari Eischer.

This Years's Artist is Pekka Saikko, a famous bird painter, who has won BirdLife Finland's great price already twice.



A painting by artist Niilo Kallio can be purhased by bying our T- or College shirts. You will find all these paintings on the farm's Photo album .


Sponsors 2001 - 2002

Häme Regional Environment Centre
The International Wild Waterfowl Association (IWWA)
Korkeasaaren ystävät ry
Lämpöura Ky Pentti Tenhunen
Markprint Oy
Pirkanmaan lintutieteellinen yhdistys ry.
Rosenlew puutarhakalvot
Raatikuva Ky Heikki Löflund
Artist Pekka Saikko
Suomen Terästekniikka Oy


Contact information

mail: PO-Box 517 / FIN 13111 Hämeenlinna
e-mail: <>
chairman: fil. dr. Lauri Kahanpää
tel: (358)14-2602716 and (358)14-253364 (Finland=358)
fax: (358)14-2602701
direct to farm: tel/fax (358) 03 7654 727, mobile (358)440- 654727
membership fees:
foreign members USD 50 or 50 EUR per annum

<> published in june 2002, updated sep.10.2002