Lesser white-fronted goose

The lesser white-fronted goose (Anser erythropus) is globally threatened and classed as Vulnerable on the international Red List. It’s one of Sweden’s most critically endangered species of bird. The goal of the Lesser White-Fronted Goose Project is that in the future there should be a viable population of the species in the Swedish mountains.

The lesser white-fronted goose was once a comparatively common breeding bird in Sweden, but in the past century numbers have fallen dramatically in Scandinavia. During the 1900s, the last of the original geese disappeared almost completely from Sweden and Finland. There is a small population of ten to 20 breeding pairs in Norway. The greatest threat to the species is considered to be hunters along the birds’ migration route and over-wintering sites around the Caspian and Black seas. A somewhat new and serious threat is also interference from human activities at the breeding places in Lapland.

The Lesser White-Fronted Goose Project was launched in the 1970s by the Swedish Association for Hunting and Wildlife Management and has been supported by, among others, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency and WWF. Collaboration with Nordens Ark began as soon as the park opened in 1989. Since then, Nordens Ark has sent more than 50 lesser white-fronted geese to the release project, and in total, the project released 348 lesser white-fronted geese in the Swedish mountains between 1981 and 1999. The birds were released together with barnacle geese (Branta leucopsis), which served as foster parents. Using foster parents meant that the birds’ migration route could be deliberately altered to new over-wintering sites, mainly in Holland. The method succeeded, and in recent years a dozen pairs bred in the mountains of Lapland. The project made no releases between 2000 and 2006 after it was discovered that some geese in the breeding population carried genes of the greater white-fronted goose (Anser albifrons), a related species. As a result, all the geese used up to 1999 were taken out of the breeding programme.

The project was given new impetus in 2006 when a breeding population of wild-caught lesser white-fronted geese was established. In a multi-year partnership with Russian agencies and goose researchers, more than 50 lesser white-fronted goslings were captured on the Russian tundra (without damage to the Russian population) and transported to Sweden and the new breeding centre constructed at Nordens Ark. The Russian birds reproduced for the first time in 2008, when two males and a female were hatched. Since then, a further breeding facility has been built, this time at the Öster Malma premises of the Swedish Association for Hunting and Wildlife Management. Between 2010 and 2014, the two centres have hatched and released 147 youngsters of Russian descent in the Swedish mountains.

All the geese that were placed out were checked thoroughly by a vet and ring-marked prior to release. Ring-marking is necessary to enable individual birds to be identified and tracked if and when they are spotted at resting sites and over-wintering areas.

An even more important way of following the movements of the geese is with the aid of satellite transmitters. Thanks to generous support from the Swedish Postcode Lottery, the Hasselblad Foundation, Segré Foundation and Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, we’ve been able to test the system over two years. It has given us a lot of valuable and sometimes new information about how the geese actually behave after being released in the mountains of Lapland. Of 54 geese released in 2014.

To find out how the Lesser White-Fronted Goose Project works, and how the breeding and releases are going, watch this YouTube video. 

Read more about the Lesser White-Fronted Goose Project on the website of the Swedish Association for Hunting and Wildlife Management here.