Freak weather conditions kill hundreds of endangered geese

SURFBIRDS NEWS

Extraordinary weather conditions in the Kalmykya region of Southern Russia bordering the Caspian Sea have led to the deaths of at least several hundred – and possibly thousands – of rare geese.

Snow and rain fell together, which in combination with viciously low temperatures in the region of -10ºC transformed the snow into a thick layer of ice.

The speed at which this happened almost instantly created an ice shell which entombed the birds in a cocoon of ice 15cm thick.hunters discovered the tragic scene, estimating that up to a thousand geese were dead. The majority of the geese that perished were juveniles so less able to fight their way free of the ice.

Lesser White-fronted Goose
Lesser White-fronted Goose © Mateusz Matysiak, from the surfbirds galleries.

Endangered red- breasted geese, lesser fronted white geese and some little bustards were caught by this freak of nature.

The hunters managed to save 17 red-breasted geese by breaking them from their ice graves. They took them to their home in Priyutnoe village where they managed to revive them in a heated hen-house.

Local These hunters were instrumental in alerting the local Ministry of Natural Resources about the freak weather conditions and the ensuing tragedy.

Dr Peter Cranswick of WWT said: “This is a blow to red-breasted geese conservation efforts. We have been working with the countries where these very striking and endangered geese nest and migrate, and will be sending a conservation team to Bulgaria next week – which is where the majority of these geese spend the winter.

Lesser White-fronted Goose
Lesser White-fronted Goose © Mateusz Matysiak, from the surfbirds galleries.

“Amongst a variety of other conservation initiatives we will be fitting transmitters and starting to track the movements of the geese. Efforts to save this rare and spectacular goose will include involving the local hunting communities – this event proves their support and contribution is critical.”

Following the rescue, all but three of the saved 17 geese were able to be released back into the wild, the three that were unable to fly were taken to the “Esmeli” center for wild animals in Kalmykya where they will be looked after until they can be released into the wild next spring.

The hunters, Vladimir Povolozky and Viktor Savtchenko, estimated the original numbers of dead geese in the region of 1000, however, by the time official inspectors were able to get to the site foxes, scavengers and carrion birds had eaten many of the dead geese, so their count was lower at around 300.

Martin Spray, Chief Executive of WWT said: “Following this natural disaster, it is now more important than ever that we help this species and grow its numbers, or in future such an event, combined with a variety of other threats it faces, could spell the end for it in the wild.

“If we do save this bird, despite its spread across many national boundaries, it will be undoubtedly become an icon of conservation success in the future.”

The official inspection concluded that the single cause of these deaths was the extraordinary weather conditions. No other similar occurrences have ever been officially recorded.

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Filed under animals, biodiversity, conservation, endangered, environment, environmentalism, extinction, nature, wildlife, zoology

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