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2004 - No. 2

December 2004 (Translation Feb 2005)
Other issues:

In this issue:

Editor's note: Numbers and Birds

Lauri Kahanpää

Allianz Umweltstiftung - a well known German Nature Conservation fund - has decided to spend more than half a million euro on reintroduction of the Lesser White-fronted Goose with the Ultra Light airplane method. The project will be carried out by Aktion Zwerggans who are imbedding this as part of a large multifaceted conservation project which will be supported by the LifeNature-fond. Also we Finns will participate in this international project, large enough to really rescue the Lesser White-front from extinction.

The previous number 1/2004 of this Bulletin was a special issue dedicated to a comprehensive presentation of the conservation history, current state and estimated future of the LWfG. Fresh data confirms what was written there: the numbers of geese are decreasing. In Hungary an all time minimum of 38 birds were observed, and here in Finland no more than 6 spring individuals were found in spite of an unusual observation effort. No breeding or autumn migration exists any more in Finland , and in Norway, on the famous Valdak marshes only 27 LWfG were seen. Last year there were 47.

More sequences of decreasing numbers can be found in the 60 pages report published by WWF Finland and the Norwegian Ornithological Society. Just click

Numbers talk. They tell us that the Lesser White-fronted Goose is diminishing everywhere and on the brink of dying out in Scandinavia. The reason we know: unsustainable hunting along migration routes and in wintering areas. Nobody seriously expects this situation to improve significantly in the next years or even decades. The only increasing LWfG population in the world is the one created by re-introduction in Sweden. These birds are in the process of extending their range. An expedition of the Friends travelled to the Netherlands in October, and they could count a new record of 62 individuals in one flock the Anjum-Tibma area. But even better news were waiting a little bit more to the south. One of the Lesser White-fronted Geese released in Enontekiö, Finnish Lapland, in 2004 was photographed and identified by its leg rings at Korendijksche Slikken. This observation proves that our method does work.

Photo and @ Gert Huijzers, Goudswaard


Big numbers and small numbers, increasing and decreasing trends, all speak the same language. Both governmental and non-governmental organizations should at last understand their responsibility and give their full support to continuation of the effective conservation actions.

Lesser White-fronted Geese


Observations in 2004

Collected by Lauri Kahanpää

The exact migration routes of the last Norwegian Lesser White-fronted Geese are still unknown, but they seem to fly east for a first stop on the Kanin peninsula and continue to the autumn staging grounds in Kazakhstan, where they join their Russian relatives. What happens next is in the process of becoming better known, since one satellite tracking transmitter, owned by the WWF and installed by one of the Friends in Siberia, is working well. The bird in question has made it all the way to Iraq and down the Tigris to not so far away from the Shatt el Arab. Early in spring, Lesser White-fronts are observed in the Evros river delta in Greece, and soon thereafter in Hungary, in the Hortobagy Nature reserve. In Estonia, most observations are made in May around Matsalu Bay. Single birds belonging to the Swedish population are regularly observed in spring, both in Estonia and in Finland. The following mumerical data are mainly taken brom teh observations page of the Norwegian Ornithological Society, observations.htm. These numbers should be compared with the data in Bulletin 2/2004.

At the Evros site special EU-sponsored bird-watching was done january 2004, and a total of 52 LWfG were fou8nd, one of them carrying Norwegian colour rings. On the Hortobagy staging site 38 Lessers were seen in March, four of them Norwegian marked. The first Estonian observations were made in April - an adult bird on April 16 and two more on April 18 and 20. In Finland the year's first observation was actually done even a little earlier. A single lesser White-front was seen at Kalajoki, about 100 km south of the former staging areas near Oulu, and probably re-sighted in Lohtaja together with a few Bean Geese. The main Estonian flock gathered at Matsalu in the first days of may: 22 Lessers grazing on the Haeska fields. The later fate of this flock is unknown, since in spite of extensive watching only 4-6 Lessers were seen in Finland. In particular, the traditional staging grounds on the Hailuoto island were empty. The geese might have passed over Sweden instead - some Lesser White-fronts were surprisingly observed in Swedish Lapland. In any case, by mid May 31 individuals appeared in the Porsanger Fjord in Norway, four of them carrying Norwegian rings. Most of these birds were immature and therefore not breeding. No wonder, only about one third of the birds observed in the Valdak marshes in August 2004 were vintage 2004.

Estonian observations have not been presented in previous issues of the Bulletin. The basic facts can easily be adapted from the aforementioned Norwegian source. Maximal essstiamtes are: 32/1998,  43-51/1999, 35/2000, 13/2001, 16/2002, 15/2003, 22/2004. According to P. Tolvanen the 2001 plunge can be explained by the extremely poor breeding success in the previous summer 2000 - all spring flock birds were adults. Recovery is slow..


Swedish birds are treated separately in the story below by Åke Andersson. Fresh observations are available on the "Observations" page

Exciting Satellite Tracking

Lauri Kahanpää

The Friends of the Lesser White-Fronted Goose tagged our first Barnacle Goose in Finnish Lapland in 2003 and a second one in 2004. Satellite tracking technology is new and fine but tracking wildlife is no easy business. Experience indicates that about one tagging in three gives proper results: the transmitter works and wanders with the bird as planned. Our bit of a statistics seems to confirm this.

Our research is done in cooperation with Jyväskylä University. We try to clarify along what route Barnacle Geese released in Lapland will migrate to the Netherlands and back. Still we do not know. Our first transmitter worked wonderfully, and was active during at least one whole year. After release, the Barnacle Goose flew about ten kilometers to a good habitat -- some lakes and ponds in midst of a large marsh area, and during late summer ARGOS painted a nice cluster of observation dots on our electronic map. When autumn came to Lapland, small lakes were covered by ice and all waterfowl began to gather on larger bodies of water (attracting the few ornithologists living in the area). But our goose did not move. There were no visual observations either. Our friend PhD Pekka Kekäläinen has constructed a practical hand-held direction sensitive antenna, and the electronics shop EVP-elektroniikka by the Finnish Air Force Base in Tikkakoski has lent us a pocket size 400 MHz receiver. So when winter was really coming, we sent an expedition driving 1000 km to Lapland to find out what might have happened to our Barnacle Goose and - if possible - to retrieve the valuable transmitter. Seemingly our bird had been shot by a poacher, and probably the transmitter was lying somewhere close to the only walking path there. Despite a hard days work in very poor weather conditions, it was not found, and already the next day snow covered the Arctic and the transmitter went silent. But in spring 2004 ARGOS discovered the signals again, and it was time for another trial. The new expedition was well prepared having trained the finding technique with the help of transmitter number two. Also, they had corrected and carefully statistically analyzed all coordinates. In Lapland they marched in hard conditions again: wet snow falling and temperatures close to the freezing point. They reached the Hot Spot on the map. In the middle of awkwardly dense ground vegetation there stood a tall pine - with a White-tailed Eagle's (H. albicilla) nest on top of it. The transmitter was not found in the bushes - neither was it found later in summer, when the annual ring-marker searched for it in the nest. The Eagles had one living young, anyway.


The second Barnacle Goose got his transmitter back-pack as well as his freedom in July 2004 - at a secure distance from the previous place. This time we had problems with the computer system activating the transmitter, but our hand held system received a signal - unfortunately ARGOS did not. We were really worried until, one week later, the satellite centre CLS in France informed us about having found a remedy for some temporary problems with their satellites and that data was flowing again. Our Goose had been flying around close to the release area and had then surprisingly moved to the north. By the end of August, the signal became weaker and disappeared. But that was not the end of the story. Fortunately, all our birds are colour ringed. Four months later one of the young birds in the released flock was identified in the Netherlands exactly in the area where we had expected our birds to migrate. The observer, Mr. Gert Huijzers, named her "Finny". The finding of Finny launched some enthusiasm; maybe other family members have survived also. For details, see . Without guides, Finny could not have made it to the Korendijksche Slikken, so probably at least one of her adoptive parents is accompanying her. In spring, we may meet her at our Goose Farm.

Not only some Barnacle Geese but also some Lesser White-fronts were satellite tagged by a Friend - but not in Finland. WWF gave three transmitters to Vladimir Morozov, who carried out the tagging on his annual expedition in the Polar Urals/Yamal.

Two transmitters went silent in Kazakhstan but the third one is still working. Recent observations come from southern Iraq.

Fresh news is available at tracking.htm . For the first time in history, we might be able to follow a Lesser White-fronted Goose on its full migration from summer to summer.

The Swedish Project Report 2004

Åke Andersson (translated and shortened by LK)



Öster-Malma and Gotland

In spring 2004 the Project Group decided to prolong the break in releases. This decision was made because on one hand the report of the genetic control of Swedish LWfG:s was still missing and on the other hand no advice on the genetic subject was yet prepared by the Scientific Committee of the Bonn Convention or the International Nature Conservation Union to guide this and other reintroduction projects.

Pair formation was diffuse on Öster-Malma. Two "pairs" were isolated in breeding boxes. One pair produced 4 eggs but the only hatched gosling died accidentally. The other "pair" turned out to be two males. A group of 3 males and 5 females went together and laid 5 eggs - all infertile. At Öster-Malma remain those 16 geese which are classified as having highest value for further breeding, and four more LWfG. The population of free living Barnacle Geese breeding inside Öster-Malma in 2004 consisted of 4 or possibly 5 pairs.

The Lesser White-fronted Geese held captive on Gotland produced three broods with a total of 14 goslings during the season.

2004 became the fifth consecutive year without releases.

Import of Lesser White-fronted Geese from Norway and Russia

During the year efforts were made to acquire Lesser White-fronted Geese from Norway or Russia in order to - in the long run - build up a new population for the production of birds for reintroduction. From Norway we have got the information that we cannot count on receiving any geese under the prevailing conditions. In Russia we have established contact to cooperation partners but difficulties to get the necessary permits for catching made it impossible to import any new geese from Russia either in 2004.



In winter 2003/2004 about 70-80 Swedish Lesser White-fronted Geese were observed in the Netherlands. One bird was seen in Scania, southern Sweden, around New Year.

In spring 16 Lesser White-fronted Geese were staging in the Skräbe river delta in Scania and 14 - possibly the same birds - on Valjeviken in Blekinge. 16 were seen on the island Öland and 21 on Svensksundsviken in Östergötland. A few birds were observed in Uppland Västmanland. At least 31 visited the Hudiksvall area where they usually gather in autumn. In the arctic mountains in Swedish Lapland approximately 20 spring observations were made. Probably some staging areas are still unknown there. The very interesting observations at Råstojaure in the far north will be discussed separately below.

Both the core breeding area and surrounding potential places were counted in June 3-28. At least nine birds were interpreted as guarding males. On the core area one nest was found but no broods perhaps because of the unusually late breeding. The largest flock counted 23-25 birds and the total number of Lesser White-fronted Geese in the core area was estimated to 40. Outside, 8 geese were seen, one of them a guiding male.

In August-September 4 broods with totally 11 young birds arrived at Hudiksvall. This confirmed the impression that only part of the geese migrating through Hudiksvall are coming from the core area. But we don not know where they spend the summer or possibly breed. 22 Lesser White-fronted Geese moulted on Lillfjärden in Hudiksvall.

Later in autumn large flocks of Lesser White-fronted Geese were seen in the Hudiksvall area (max 77) and on Hjälstaviken Bay (max 46, partly identical, but much more than ever). The Medelpin site was visited by at least 24 individuals and elsewhere in the country the largest flocks were 12 (Asköviken, Västmanland) and 21 (Barkaröviken, Västmanland). The autumn population was estimated to be 90 individuals.

Other observations of Lesser White-fronted Geese

We have reported earlier that no Lesser White-fronted Geese breed elsewhere in Sweden, and no such observations have been made in many years with the exception of some singular spring birds along the coast. No counting has been attempted either. Therefore the following observation came as a surprise: On April 29 ten Lesser White-fronts were seen flying north at Råsstojaure, north of Torne Träsk Lake. These may be birds belonging to the Norwegian population and having flown along an unusually western route.


In southern Norrbotten at least one free living hybrid brood of Barnacle and Lesser White-fronted goose was onbserved (male LWfG). Few similar observations - only one or two - are known from previous years. A permission was given to catch/kill these birds.

photo: Martin Alexandersson



After the regrettable departure of professor Håkan Tegelström, the gene test material will be evaluated by FD Anna Carin Andersson at Evolutionsbiologiskt center, Uppsala. Results are expected in spring 2005


Farms, Zoos and Re-introduction

The Role of Zoos in Nature Conservation

Seppo Turunen (Translation LK)

The author is the executive of Helsinki Zoo. This article was published in Finnish in the daily "Helsingin Sanomat" Nov 4.2004.

The world's zoos form a world wide organization consisting of almost a thousand units. Their activities are more and more an integral part of Nature Conservation; particularly protection of rare and threatened species. This aspect of zoos is often neglected in public discussion - and that is what happened in the recent discussion about the future of the baboons in Helsinki Zoo.

It is stipulated by law (in Finland) that zoos have to participate in the preservation of biological diversity. What zoos can do, is to enhance the protection of species and their habitats.

Traditionally zoos serve as gene-banks, breeding and preserving populations of species which are rare or endangered in nature. The problems threatening the survival of small populations are widely the same in freedom and captivity. To manage these problems, extensive cooperation between zoos is indispensable.

The decline of an animal species often is due to the fragmentation or destruction of its habitats, sometimes to poaching. For some species, breeding in captivity is the last straw that can and must be caught to save the species.

Today 216 zoos in the organization of North American zoos maintain conservation programs for 160 animal species. The association of European zoos and aquaria has conservation programmes for 152 species with 300 zoos participating in Europe and the Middle East. In Australian zoos 85 local species are under protection; in Africa conservation programs exist for 30 species.

Helsinki Zoo participates in about twenty international species breeding programmes for conservation. For some of the species in question breeding in captivity has been indispensable and for some of them this will still be in the future. such animals are among others the European bison, the Przewalski horse, the lion tamarin and the Amur leopard.


The goal of breeding in captivity may be either restocking of natural populations or the reintroduction of a locally extinct species to its former range or somewhere else where it has a chance to prosper. Reintroductions will not be undertaken unless local conditions have changed to the better. For the time being, continued poaching and loss of natural habitats have pre-empted all reintroduction plans for big felines. Dozens of projects aiming at restorations of animal species are going on all around the world. Also Helsinki Zoo participates in some of them.

In the future zoos will join more conservation projects in the field, the animals' own habitats. The World's zoo- and aquarium-society promotes cooperation between captive breeding and conservation in nature. This may mean teaching and informing, but hopefully also that zoos will be active in nature, protecting the species which they are breeding. A zoo may for instance give expert advice, carry out research programs and gather funds to buy land areas for conservation purposes.

In recent years the association of European zoos and aquaria has organized several campaigns to promote such activities. In the years 2000-2001 a campaign for conservation of the big apes was arranged, a protection project for Brazil's rain forests was realized in 2001-2002 and another project for preserving the tiger in 2003. Currently a project to protect tortoises and turtles is running. From 2006 on a campaign to protect European carnivores will be arranged.

Helsinki zoo is active among others in the protection of the Amur leopard. Of these leopards living in Russian Far East, only 35-40 individuals survive in nature, but breeding in captivity is successful and today at least 150 can be found in zoos. In Helsinki, three Amur leopards were born this year (2004). Without the help coming from zoos, the species would go extinct in nature.

Zoos form an important link between man and nature, in particular species conservation. Of all people in the world, ten percent visit a zoo every year.

Increasing emphasis on conservation is a great challenge for the zoos. Zoos should reserve more room than before to species in need of protection.


Our own Lesser White-fronts

Pentti Alho

The birds

Weather conditions were not exactly favourable in spring 2004. Sub zero temperatures in May were a nuisance. Anyway, the end result was a satisfactory, close to average, number of goslings. But better results are needed when full-scale restocking will start.

Photo: Alssi Niskanen

Volunteers at the farm

Again, October was the best month for construction work at the farm . Almost every week end we had volunteers building, and the results are fine (but always a little unfinished).

The "Tampere hit squad" built the brick walls to the 35 m^2 fodder storage house in two days, and now this rat-proof building is already in use: since taking the photo, doors have been installed and a ton of dried shrimps are inside.


The geese are not yet in the150 square meter hall built in 2003. The problem is the absence of nets to cover the area around the hall. In December, we at last received the net material from a Russian factory, and soon all new built breeding boxes will be closed and passage to the new hall can be taken into use. This will enable us to keep two separated flocks of geese.

Of the ten original breeding boxes now seven are totally renewed, and also the three remaining old ones can be used in 2005.


The most eager Finns are talking of repairing my old sauna building. Every Finn loves the sauna. Mine could be used for its original purpose but also as a guest house.

Next summer another small pasture area will be fenced and closed, and the remaining breeding boxes must be replaced. All this is relatively small business compared to the job we have done already. From now on the emphasis will at last clearly lie on breeding geese and using them for restocking - using both barnacle geese and ultra-light aircraft as foster parents.

Of course people are always welcome to work at the farm. Money for gas is given for those who need it. and You can stay free over night at the nearby bead and breakfast place called Tulimäki. It is a good idea to call in advance so that we can reserve food.


The Ultra-light Project begins

Johan Mooij and Lauri Kahanpää

In 1990, on the occasion of their 100th birth day the well known German insurance company Allianz established a nature Conservation foundation the capital of which was one million German marks for each year in the company's history. At their home page you find Aktion Zwerggans e.V. and the Lesser White-fronted Goose reintroduction project.

Together with scientists and other partners, Aktion Zwerggans intends to breed up to 400 Lesser White-fronted Geese in four years and to release them in Lapland using ultra-light aircraft as foster parents guiding them to safe wintering grounds in the lower Rhine area in Germany. Together with the environmental section of the Deutscher Aero-Club they have been breeding geese and doing experimental flights with them in 3 seasons already. This summer the planes also flew along the future route from Lapland to Germany without birds.

Restocking and flights will begin immediately, when research results are available guaranteeing the suitability of the goslings to be used; in Finland they must represent the same species, sub-species, breed, population and form which was found here naturally before extinction.

Besides Allianz Umweltstiftung also the European Union is interested in reviving the Lesser White-fronted Goose on its territory. The EU LifeNature fond is also offering substantial financial support for the Aktion Zwerggans project.

What kind of goslings should be released in Lapland

Lauri Kahanpää

The future free living Finnish LWfG stock will descend from tested or "natural" parents, if releases are done soon, quickly, with a large number of released goslings and using ultra light planes, whereas any further delay in restarting releases will lead to an increased amount of gene material with Swedish project origin.

According to Finnish law, non-native species falling outside the purview of the Hunting Act or Fishing Act are not to be released into the wild if there is cause to suspect that the species may become established permanently. This provision is further defined as follows: "what is prescribed here regarding species shall correspondingly apply to sub-species, breeds, populations and forms". The Act does not contain a possibility to derogate from the stated prohibition.

Restocking projects cannot apply for any kind of permission. We must ourselves take care of the quality of our abirds. Fortunately, modern genetics gives us the opportunity to fulfill these requirements with higher accuracy than the legislator can have intended.

In the case of the Lesser White-fronted Goose there is special reason for caution, since some of the captive birds carry mitochondria of a type not known from wild LWfG but resembling those common in (Greater) White-fronted Geese A. albifrons. Mitochondria are interesting for genetics, since they are suitably stable. But they are inherited strictly maternally, thus not giving any information on the ancestral distance of a possible hybridization. Better information can be obtained by inspecting the chromosomes themselves. Our birds have been tested this way. The result can be seen in the report. One of the world's best renowned geneticists, Michael Wink has interpreted the results. You can read his interpretation in this pdf-document.

For successful reintroduction large numbers of suitable goslings are needed. An internationally accepted pool of such birds should be created. As a first and second step experts should fins out and agree upon methods for testing the birds and interpreting the results. The test method is mostly a technical matter and Wetlands International's LWfG subsection has already nominated Allan Baker, Michael Wink, Martti Soikkeli and Marina Kholodova as the experts who should solve this problem. Marina Kholodova has done the gene tests on the Finnish birds and Martti Soikkeli represents the view point of a well known general zoologist with a long experience in Lesser White-fronted Goose research. when evaluating results, the genetic facts must be complemented by taking into account various other aspects things like the health, availability, genetic variability, and social acceptance of the goslings. The very useful IUCN guidelines for reintroduction projects state the following in section 4 a (v):

It is desirable that source animals come from wild populations. If there is a choice of wild populations to supply founder stock for translocation, the source population should ideally be closely related genetically to the original native stock and show similar ecological characteristics (morphology, physiology, behavior, habitat preference) to the original sub-population. Removal of individuals for re-introduction must not endanger the captive stock population or the wild source population. Stock must be guaranteed available on a regular and predictable basis, meeting specifications of the project protocol. Individuals should only be removed from a wild population after the effects of translocation on the donor population have been assessed, and after it is guaranteed that these effects will not be negative. If captive or artificially propagated stock is to be used, it must be from a population which has been soundly managed both demographically and genetically, according to the principles of contemporary conservation biology. Re-introductions should not be carried out merely because captive stocks exist, nor solely as a means of disposing of surplus stock. Prospective release stock, including stock that is a gift between governments, must be subjected to a thorough veterinary screening process before shipment from original source. Any animals found to be infected or which test positive for non-endemic or contagious pathogens with a potential impact on population levels, must be removed from the consignment, and the uninfected, negative remainder must be placed in strict quarantine for a suitable period before retest. If clear after retesting, the animals may be placed for shipment. Since infection with serious disease can be acquired during shipment, especially if this is intercontinental, great care must be taken to minimize this risk. Stock must meet all health regulations prescribed by the veterinary authorities of the recipient country and adequate provisions must be made for quarantine if necessary.

Whatever the outcome of research, the discussion on the suitability of prospective release stock will go on. There are extreme opinions like accepting no other but freshly caught Scandinavian natural birds for multiplication - in fact there are people who would not accept any captive stock at all. Other opinions call for birds caught in Russia or for various corrections of the current captive stock. One aspect of the current situation is fortunate: all original LWfG breeding west of Taimyr peninsula migrate to the same wintering areas and find their partners in winter. This leads to the existence of only one western population and frees us from the obligation to catch Norwegian or Kola peninsula birds - where the donor populations already are much too weak.

At first thought, all potential offspring of hybrids of Lesser White-fronted Geese and other goose species should be removed from the breeding stock - an euphemism for killing them. But there is reason for second thought. Nobody can guarantee of any goose - wild or captive alike - that it has no alien ancestor at all in any generation, as practically all geese, in particular the Greater and Lesser White-front are known to hybridize in Nature. One of the latest reports on this phenomenon was published at Wetlands International's Conference in Odessa: three hybrids were reported shot in the Ukraine. Like many other pairs of species, these two are evidently kept apart not by genetic isolation but by natural selection: atypical Lessers are selected away, since the typical ones are better adapted to life as a Lesser White-fronted Goose and these survive in the long run and are called pure Lesser White-fronts. Another phenomenon should be born in mind: first generation hybrids carry 50 per cent of each parent genome, the second carries 25 per cent, the following generations 12,5 then 6,25, down to 3,125 etc. After ten generations, less than one pro mille remains, after twenty only one millionth. Experts should try to find consensus on how much a single bird is allowed to differ from some standard to be called "pure". The answer obviously cannot be: "not at all!"

Another problem is caused by the planned manipulation of migration routes. Like the Swedish project birds, also the Finnish ones will be taught to migrate to safe wintering grounds in Germany (by ultra-light aircraft as foster parents) or in the Netherlands (by Barnacle Geese as foster parents). At least the latter ones would soon find mating partners among Lesser White-fronted Geese belonging to the Swedish population, created by reintroduction in the late 20:th century without gene technical selection. Birds following UL to Germany would have a much higher probability to find a more "natural" partner coming from Russia; about 100 observations of such are made in Germany annually.

As a summary, we understand that the future free living Finnish LWfG stock will descend from tested or "natural" parents, if releases are done soon, quickly, with a large number of released goslings and using ultra light planes, whereas any further delay in restarting releases will lead to an increased amount of gene material with Swedish project origin.

The EU Action Plan for Conservation of the Lesser White-fronted Goose was written more than ten years ago and is now obsolete, since no more than ten per cent of the "severely endangered" Scandinavian population of the time survive today. In a near future, the Action Plan will be updated, but already the old plan mentions reintroduction as the next step in conservation, when other measures have failed. This - for sure - is the case.



Conferences 2004-2005


Wetlands International's Conference "GOOSE 2004" in Odessa

Lauri Kahanpää


Since I joined Wetlands International's LWfG-people only six years ago. I cannot report on their earlier history Wetlands International's main objective is - of course - to protect wetlands, in particular their avifauna. The Goose Specialist Group is chaired by doctor Barwolt "Bart" Ebbinge. One of their activities is to organize an annual high class conference GOOSE XXXX. The Goose Specialist Group has subsections. One of the most active is the LWfG subsection - formerly called the Task Force.

The Task Force's Phoenix trick

The rationale of purely scientific fora is communication and conferences. In contrast, Wetlands International also is an organization giving advice on natural conservation. and also the Goose Specialist Group has frequently expressed their opinion going against the destruction of various wetlands. The LWfG subsection can also influence National decisions by reminding decision makers of the importance to protect the species and above all its habitats. But we have as an organization agreed upon not to commit ourselves on either side in the reintroduction question. This is because the Swedish re-stockings have been controversial for years. There are too dissimilar opinions on what should be the final goal of Nature Conservation, what can be reached and what can be the result of different ways of action. Only deeply engaged people can continue to work in such a desperate project, where operation models differing from their own easily appear as a threat. As a result of unfortunate coincidences, no representative for higher instances of Wetlands International happened to be present at a disastrous meeting of the Task Force in connection with the Estonian GOOSE-2001 -meeting, where the chairman tried to squelch all opinions differing from his own. One year later, at the meeting in Spain, Bart Ebbinge intervened by taking the chairman's role himself, and at the same meeting the Task Force suspended itself. Ebbinge promised that Wetlands International would create a follow-up organization whose function and mode of decision making should be reconsidered.

In Odessa the leadership of Wetlands International did establish a renewed LWfG subsection. The idea was to form a discussion forum, open for all interested, free and scientific. As chairman they nominated one of our hosts in Odessa, Ivan Rusev

and as members of a leading Board also the chairman of the Swedish reintroduction project, Åke Andersson and the Estonian member of WWF Finland's LWfG group, Maire Toming. Those present decided unanimously to support their new leadership and in the future to try to solve their discrepancies on the basis of facts. We also agreed upon not to commit ourselves on either side in the reintroduction question. Decisions concerning reintroduction were left to other instances, in particular the IUCN. The atmosphere was relaxed. The meeting in Odessa proved there was hope.

Finally, the LWfG subsection decided to organize a scientific LWfG Conference in spring 2005. Here the technical result of gene tests could be presented for evaluation without a need to decide on yes or no.

Other aspects of the conference.

I feel somewhat stupid having written only about one meeting at the Conference. In reality, GOOSE 2004 in Odessa was full of interesting talks, both formal and informal, and we had a n excellent chance to update and extend our knowledge in goose biology and conservation and also ask some of the best experts for permission to publish their results in our Bulletin. To avoid listing talks I mention only one: Once again, the review on the current status and trends of the LWfG, given by Vladimir Morozov. Learning to know the city and country also was a memorable experience not to mention the excursion all the way to within sight of Moldova. The Friends had again the opportunity to express our appreciation and gratitude towards some persons. This time art was given to both main organizers, Ivan Rusev and Anatoli Korzyukov. Eckhart Kuijken and Konstantin Litvin received special awards for their long lasting and successful work for the protection of waterbirds.


The "Global Flyway Conference: Waterbirds Around the World" in Edinburgh in spring 2004

Lauri Kahanpää

Wetlands International's great "Global Flyway Conference: Waterbirds Around the World" attracted more than 500 people to Edinburgh. The excellently arranged conference was full of program, of course, but I would have liked to hear even more of the birds and maybe not so many lectures of the type: "The government of my country has done this and this to protect so and so many per cent of the wetlands in my country and it has led to these and these results." But I must admit, it was a conference for those who make decisions, so maybe it was all right, and anyway there were lots of interesting talks.

Three talks were given on the LWfG and on top of that three fine posters hung side to side on the best possible poster wall right in the lounge: Our own, Aktion Zwerggans and the Swedish Projekt Fjällgås.

One formal and two less formal meetings were held to discuss the LWfG. In the formal  "Lesser White-fronted Goose Group Meeting (chair Ivan Rusev)" Tue 6. Apr. 20-21.30 the following subjects were taken up:

  1. The suitability of captive goslings for reintroduction
  2. Enhancing the change of information between conferences
  3. The EU LifeNature-projects
  4. The LWfG Conference in Helsinki in spring 2005.

1) Professor Håkan Tegelström who had done the gene tests on Swedish birds, has departed, and now his assistants are preparing the material for publication. The corresponding Finnish study has been carried out at the A.N.Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution,, a branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The following scientists were unanimously accepted as experts who should evaluate the scientific methods which should be used before we can decide which goslings are suitable for reintroduction purposes.

Marina Kholodova is a leading researcher at the A.N.Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution, Martti Soikkeli is an LWfG expert and an emeritus professor at Turku university, Michael Wink is a renowned population geneticist and the head of the world famous molecule biological research centre IPMB at Heidelberg university. Also prof. Allan Baker, the famous Canadian geneticist, was mentioned as a potential fourth member.  

Other organizations like the IUCN will be informed of our plans and their advice is welcome. The Bonn convention/AEWA had a few days before had their meeting nut the LWfG had not been discussed there. (Anyway, our posters were welcome on their wall.)

I told the audience that the Friends of the LWfG will go on preparing for restocking, among others by promoting genetic studies and by exploring migration routes by satellite tagging. Also, a first experimental release of an LWfG will be done in the summer. This was largely approved of, on the condition that the birds will be selected very carefully, since the expert's opinion will not be available this year. Later on we did just this.

2) The subsection asked Aktion Zwerggans to set up a common electronic bulletin board. Until it works, most information should be sent to the Norwegian "Piskulka"-page.

3) Two EU LifeNature-pilot projects for LWfG Conservation exist, and each are obliged to begin the full project next year. The WWF-Finland-based group intends to continue monitoring the extinction of the remnants of the original Scandinavian population to the end and tries simultaneously to rescue them by creating better survival chances for them along their migration routes. The other application is Aktion Zwerggans. The EU commission has asked for a complete coordination of the two applications and projects, since they want both restocking and monitoring but no overlapping activities. Full merger was found impossible already in Odessa, where the WWF-group still opposed restocking. Avoiding overlap is possible.

4) Finland was elected as the best site for the conference in March -April 2005. All willing were invited. As the only Finn present, I was asked to take care of practical organization, preferably in cooperation with WWF-Finland. This I have done. The invitation is in this Bulletin!

The two informal meetings were dedicated to one single subject: the forthcoming Life-Nature-reintroduction project. Its goals and ethics were discussed. Does man have the right to keep any wild animals in captivity at all? But mostly we discussed details like the choice of the release sites, the expenses of satellite tracking etc. No decisions were made.


An Invitation to the Helsinki International Lesser White-fronted Goose Conference, spring 2005: click one of the logos below!

Ministry of the Environment




The Society

Five Years of Friends of the LWfG

Lauri Kahanpää

The beginning

The Friends of the Lesser White-fronted Goose ass. was founded in 1999 as a kind of fire brigade to rescue the Finnish reintroduction project. This became necessary when WWF Finland had given up hope and abandoned their project. Our first task was to help Pentti Alho to survive with the birds while waiting for decisions on their further fate based on reliable research. At a meeting with WWF we decided to share responsibilities: we were supposed to take care of the captive stock and adapt the role of a civic organization.

Financial problems

In the beginning, we had to rebuild most of the farm structures at Hämeenkoski, install piping and electricity, and to balance the economy. Building was hard but finding funds was harder. We applied for money from the Ministry of the Environment to cover various costs from fodder to genetic research. In the absence of public funding, we had the chromosome tests done at our own expense, something that became possible when a first class specialist at the A.N. Severtsov-insitute of the Russian Academy of Sciences got interested in our problems. Our applications have lain in the Ministry for five years without news about progress or refusal. Together with Sweden's Projekt Fjällgås we tried in vain to find Scandinavian financial support for catching Russian wild LWfG to improve the captive stock. We also compiled a large international EU LifeNature- type project including genetic tests of the captive birds and measures for improving conditions on the eastern flyways of the remaining Scandinavian LWfG population. According to the Ministry's official press release, our application was fine. But somehow they forgot to fill in the recommendation form strictly necessary for further processing in the EU, and the project was rejected on formal grounds. In spite of all this, there has been some modest public funding for our breeding efforts: both local environmental authorities and the European Union have contributed. Our main income are donations, though. Today the society is free of debt.


Pentti Alho and the Friends now have bred LWfG at Hämeenkoski for seven years and the farm as well as the birds are doing fine. This is mainly the merit of Pentti Alho, but also the Friends have done a few thousands volunteer hours. When giving credit I must not forget our sponsors who have given lots of material help like fodder and construction material. Without them, probably no LWfG would breed in Finland any more.


Running an expensive farm is no wise man's business unless there are guarantees for its necessity. From the very beginning, the Friends have had access to highest possible biological expertise, and during the years our knowledge of the Lesser White-fronted Goose and the effect of different conservation methods has still grown, while the number of the last remaining original Scandinavian LWfG is converging to zero. We are not working in vain.

Growth and respect

The sphere of operations and the membership of the Friends were greatly enlarged on one particular day, the last day of Wetlands International's GOOSE 2000-conference in Estonia. At the meeting of the LWfG Task Force, the Finnish and Norwegian chairman and secretary, abused their position to suppress critical discussion of conservation methods. This provoked the representatives of other nationalities to look for a different kind of partners in Finland. Foreign members joined the Friends bringing with them their academic and professional skills, knowledge and enthusiasm in protecting the LWfG. Since then, the Friends are a healthy and growing organization with representatives (not necessarily Finnish) in various international organizations, and our members carry out regular field research in countries as far away from each other as Siberia, the Middle East and Western Europe.

Our future, the Swedish example

The Friends intend to copy a well tested Swedish method of reintroduction. Already before losing their last LWfG, Sweden started a restocking program in 1981. As a result of their clever method to teach the birds to migrate to the Netherlands, a viable population of about 100 LWfG was created. An English summary of the latest annual report of the Swedish project is printed above in this bulletin. Earlier reports have appeared in numbers 2003 - No 1 and 2004 - No 1. In spite of the relatively small numbers of free living LWfG in Sweden, the Swedish project is of global importance for the species, since Northern Europe is the only part of its range, where a safe migration route can be created. From the Siberian places all possible routes fly long distances over areas afflicted by uncontrolled hunting.

Sweden considers restarting releases of captive birds when goslings of sufficient quality can be found. Foster parents will be used to influence their migratory behaviour. But these need not necessarily be Barnacle Geese; also the use of ultra-light aircraft has found support.

Projekt Fjällgås is run by the Swedish government , the hunter's organization Jägareförbudet and WWF Sweden.

For those who want to know: our prehistory

At the initiative of WWF, breeding and restocking LWfG in Finland was begun in the late 1980s. The main funding came from the government, and the plans were implemented by a consortium of organizations and private persons. During ten years, 150 birds were released in Lapland but no nesting was observed. The failure was a result of the method used; the goslings were too young and no manipulation of migration routes was done. Veterinary problems on one of the breeding farms and the discovery of potential hybridization in the captive stock made WWF finish supplying government funds to the LWfG farms. The consortium fell apart. The Friends are one half. The other, WWF-run half continues monitoring the species and promotes protection of the meadows in Finland where LWfG have last been seen. Also they do their best to improve conditions on the eastern migration routes. These measures have proven insufficient, since official decisions have no effect on actual hunting in the relevant Eastern countries.


Our new Home page

Lauri Kahanpää

The awkward address of the Friends' English home page is replaced by

The whole home page system is going to be renewed page by page, but the general lay out will not be changed. We still believe in he following principles:


Erik van Ommen is the book-artist of the year 2004

Lauri Kahanpää


The Dutch artist Erik van Ommen - togethr with the Ornithologist Gerard Ouweneelin hve published a very beautiful book De dwergganzen van Anjum. Here You can learn about the Swedish Project both from the Dutch and the Swedish point of wiew. Yes : VIEW!

Read this: Dutch is not so imcomprehensible after all:

Nederland is een ganzenland, en met de meeste ganzensoorten gaat het goed. Maar niet met de dwerggans. Door de jacht op ganzen in Oost-Europa en Azië wordt deze vogel met uitsterven bedreigd. In Zweden probeert men door middel van herintroductie en het verleggen van de trekroute naar Nederland, de populatie van deze vogel weer op peil te brengen. En met succes. Een kleine groep dwergganzen overwintert nu op vaste plekken in de buurt van Anjurn bij het Lauwersmeer, in de Hoeksche Waard in Zuid-Holland en bij Petten in Noord-Holland.

Naar aanleiding van dit project gingen beeldend kunstenaar Erik van Ommen en schrijver/vogelaar Gerard Ouweneel op zoek naar de dwerggans. Ze bezochten de Europese broed-, trek- en overwinteringsgebieden van deze zeldzame gans met zijn prachtige goudkleurige oogring. Tijdens deze trektocht, die hen bracht tot bij de poolcirkel in het Zweedse Lapland, maakte Erik van Ommen meer dan 300 aquarellen, etsen en tekeningen. Samen met de sfeervolle tekst van Gerard Ouweneel illustreren ze het verhaal van de dwerggans, de mensen die zich met de bescherming van deze soort bezighouden en de vogels en landschappen die ze onderweg tegenkwamen.

Prijs Euro 24,95

Sponsors 2003-2004


Contact information

mail: PO-Box 517 / FIN 13111 Hämeenlinna
e-mail: <>
chairman: PhD Lauri Kahanpää
tel: 358(0)14-2602716 and 358(0)14-253364
fax: 358(0)14-2602701
farm: tel/fax 358(0)3 7654 727, mobile 358(0)440- 654727
foreign membership: USD 50 or EUR 50 per annum

<> Feb .24. 2005