Alpine Ibex Reintroduction_1
To breed and reintroduce Alpine ibexes to supplement stocks in Austria
Until the 16th century, the Alpine ibex, Capra ibex ibex, was widely distributed from the French Alps through Italy and Switzerland to Salzburg and Carinthia. They were hunted for food, skins, trophies and because of the alleged therapeutic properties of some of their body parts. The development of more efficient fire weapons had a desastrous effect on the ibex populations throughout their range, and by 1850 only one single population survived in the Gran Paradiso Massif between the Piedmont and the Aosta Valley.
In 1821, when the colony was reduced to some 50 or 60 animals, conservation measures were put into place by Thaon di Revel, Count of Torino, and in 1836, the Gran Paradiso was declared a royal hunting reserve. With a view of enforcing the protection of the species, King Vittorio Emmanuele II employed a large number of game wardens, guardie reali. Although illegal hunting continued to some extent, the presence of the guardie allowed the population to increase dramatically. By the end of the 19th century, ibex numbers at the royal reserve had grown to 3000 heads, and the King and his hunting parties could shoot about 100 to 120 bucks per year. In 1920, the King Vittorio Emmanuele III donated 2'100 ha of his reserve to the nation, and in in December 1921 the Gran Paradiso was declared Italy's first National Park. As of today the park covers 70'000 ha.
In Switzerland, there was a strong interest in restoring the Alpine ibex population. As no pure-bred animals were available, several unsuccessful attempts to introduce ibex-domestic goat-hybrids were made as from 1815. The first Federal Hunting Law, adopted in 1875, obliged the Confederation to support the reintroduction of the ibex population. In 1892 the Wildlife Park "Peter und Paul" was founded in St. Gall. Subsequently the Confederation undertook diplomatic efforts to purchase pure-bred ibexes from Italy. As these official requests were turned down by the Italian Government, and illegally obtained ibex kids were regularly placed on the market by poachers of the Aosta Valley, the Park chose to purchase illegal animals from the poacher Gabriele Bérard. In 1906 the first three kids were received and successfully hand-reared. Other kids provided by Gabriele Bérard and his son Giuseppe followed, and eventually Italy officially authorised a number of exports. In total about 100 animals were imported from Italy until World War II.
The fact that the imported kids had to be bottle-fed made them unsuitable for releasing, but the animals bred extremely well in human care. Already in 1911 "Peter und Paul" could make zoo-born ibexes available for the first reintroduction at the Graue Hörner (St. Gall). A second reintroduction initiated in 1914 at the Piz d'Ela Massif (Grisons) failed, probably due to poaching. In 1920 the first seven ibexes were reintroduced into the Swiss National Park (Grisons). These animals originated from "Peter und Paul" and from the Alpine Wildlife Park Interlaken-Harder which had been founded in 1913. Two females left the park shortly after their release and showed up 27 km south at the Piz Albris near Pontresina. Subsequently 11 more animals were released at Pontresina- and they became the most prolific ibex population of Switzerland. From 1921 to 24 the first population was established in the Bernese Oberland by releasing 15 ibexes from Interlaken at the Augstmatthorn, and in 1928 the first reintroduction took place in the Valais, where a very prolific colony could be established at the Mont Pleureur. By 1965 at least 210 ibexes bred in St. Gallen, Interlaken, Berne Animal Park "Dählhölzli" (breeding since 1938), Langenberg Wildlife Park (breeding since 1950), and two small parks at Bretaye and Zermatt had been released. All the 14'000 ibexes living in Switzerland today are the descendants of these zoo-bred animals!
In 1938 the State game wardens of Berne developed an ibex trap which allowed to capture wild ibexes in larger numbers. Reintroductions were successively phased out in the Swiss Alps and replaced by translocations. However, as predominantly males were captured, there was still a demand for females from zoos to balance the sex ratio. In addition, Berne Animal Park also supplied ibexes to the Canton of Neuchâtel for an introduction in the Jura Mountains , where the ibex disappeared already in the paleolithic age.
Reintroductions and introductions into extralimital mountain areas took place also in other countries, and Swiss zoos supplied large numbers of ibexes to Austria, and smaller numbers to Germany, France and Slovenia. Italy undertook the first reintroduction in 1921 when ibexes were released at the former Royal Hunting Reserve of Valdieri Entracque. In Austria the first successful reintroduction was undertaken at Hinterblümbach (Salzburg) in 1924, followed by the establishment of a colony in Styria in 1936 and, subsequently, resettlement in the Tyrolian Alps, Carinthia and Vorarlberg. The Alpenzoo Innsbruck was instrumental in the success of many projects, but other zoos actively participated in the Austrian reintroduction efforts, e.g. in 1994 the zoos of Munich, Salzburg, Vienna, Goldau and Helsinki provided ten ibexes for establishing a new colony in the Rauris Valley which nowadays comprises nearly 100 animals. In Germany reintroductions started in 1936 at Berchtesgaden. In France the first reintroduction took place in 1959/60 at the Massif des Cerces where ibexes from Berne Animal Park and the Mont Pleureur colony were released. In Slovenia a hybrid population was established in 1903 and, more recently, two colonies with pure-bred ibexes originating from German zoos and from wild populations in Switzerland and Italy
Altogether, the wild Alpine ibex populations count nowadays about 40'000 heads (Switzerland 14'000, Italy 13'500, France 7'000, Austria 5'000, Slovenia 400, Germany 300, Liechtenstein a few), and measures to stabilize the stocks have become mandatory in many areas, e.g. in Switzerland about 1000 animals have to be culled annually. In spite of this, reintroduction operations are still undertaken, as ibexes do not spread easily because major river valleys or plains constitute obstacles to their dispersal.
In Austria, the re-introduction of the Alpine ibex began in the 1950s, in Tyrol in the 1960s. The reintroduction was based on animals both translocated from wild colonies abroad and ex situ bred in zoological gardens. Not only the reintroduction but also the subsequent monitoring and sustainable management of the Alpine ibex were extremely successful. Most interestingly this success was not based on a single co-ordinated project, but there have been many parallel efforts by organisations and authorities working completely independently. Zoos were involved in a great number of these projects not only as suppliers of ex situ bred animals but also by providing expertise in ibex biology and management as well as taking responsibility for logistiscs, veterinary care for and immobilisation of the animals.
The Alpenzoo Innsbruck has been keeping Alpine ibexes since it was opened in 1962. The original stock was donated by Tiergarten Schönbrunn, Berne Animal Park and Langenberg Wildlife Park. The animals did extremely well, reproduced regularly, and offspring could soon be made available for reintroduction projects. Possibly as early as 1964, but certainly in 1970, ibexes were made available for reintroductions. In the early 1980s, the Alpenzoo became directly involved in the reintroduction of ibexes at various sites in Tyrol. From 1987 until 2005, the Alpenzoo reintroduced no less than 186 ibexes in Austria. The animals were released mainly in Tyrol, but also in the border triangle of Lower Austria, Salzburg and Styria. At least 61 of these ibexes had been bred at the Alpenzoo itself, the others were purchased from or made available by other European zoos. The animals were released in groups of two to 13 individuals aged between one and three years, as soon as the habitat was free of snow to allow them to have the entire vegetation period available for acclimatization. Nowadays the Austrian ibex population comprises about 5,000 animals, at least half of them living in Tyrol.
WAZA Conservation Project 05017 is implemented by Alpenzoo Innsbruck in cooperation with other zoos in Austria, Switzerland and Germany, and the conservation authorities of Tyrol, Salzburg, Styria and Lower Austria.
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