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Aleutian geese released to the wild

World Wildlife Fund and Kamchatka Airlines on Sept. 8, 2006, helped fund the transport of 50 rare Aleutian geese by helicopter to the Ekarma Island, a remote and uninhabited island in the Northern Kurils in the Aleutian Island chain.

The birds nearly went extinct in the 1930s due to extermination by predators introduced to the Aleutian and Kuril Islands by humans (fox, polar fox, and mink). In the 1970s American scientists discovered a holdover population of nearly 800 birds on Buldir Island in the Aleutian chain. Hearing of the discovery, Kamchatka ornithologist Nikolai Gerasimov and his wife Alla took interest in restoring the rare bird to the Kuril Islands. The Aleutian population migrates to California, while the separate Kamchatka-Kuril population traditionally migrated to Japan.

In 1992, the Gerasimovs pooled funds from local sponsors to build a breeding center in Elizovo, near the capital city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. For the past 15 years, the couple has worked to restore the Kuril-Japanese population. The first parent stock of geese arrived from the US in 1992. Since then, the offspring - nearly 400 birds - have been released into the bird's native habitat on the northern Kuril Island of Ekarma.

Now in the wild in Ekarma Island, the newly-released 4-month old birds raised in the Gerasimov's breeding center, first took wing. "Now they will get to know the island, flying away and retuning anew," explains Gerasimov. "A bird considers its home to be the place were it first learned to fly."

Ekarma Island provides ideal habitat for this rare species - here there are no people or predators. In former years, birds released here have adapted well. Recently, tagged birds were sighted in wintering areas in Japan and the Korean Peninsula. Evidence suggests that some of the birds also winter on the Kurils.

"People make nature conservation happen, not organizations," says Laura Williams, Director of the WWF Kamchatka/Bering Sea Ecoregional Office. "This is why WWF is pleased to support the Gerasimovs in their efforts. Thanks to them and all those who support them, the Aleutian goose has been offered a second chance for survival in Asia."