recently, Basel Zoo went for 25 years without seeing any red-breasted geese.
Now, a pair which came to Basel from England have produced young. The parents
and their two children have made themselves at home amongst the flamingos.
As in the wild, Basel
Zoo’s red-breasted geese built their nests in June, unlike most other birds
which begin brooding earlier in the year. On 27 June, the zoo keeper found two
chicks in one of the pair’s nests. These soft baby geese have now grown into
strapping teenagers, romping about among the flamingos.
Red-breasted geese are
very committed parents. The father of the two little ones has demonstrated
particular commitment to his children, fearlessly driving away the Egyptian
geese and tirelessly chasing them through the ‘undergrowth’ of flamingo legs.
The flamingos have been surprisingly calm about these chases. Unfortunately,
the eggs belonging to the second pair of red-breasted geese disappeared one day
– most likely stolen as a tasty morsel by a nest robber.
Red-breasted geese in
both captivity and the wild enjoy the company of others. Paradoxically, they
seek out brooding areas near to hawks’ nests. They are also less commonly seen
in colonies of glaucous gulls or herring gulls. At second glance, bringing up
their young near to hawks proves to be a very clever idea: these birds of prey
never hunt right by their own nests, but will drive all predators away from the
breeding ground – including arctic foxes, which like to creep up to the
red-breasted goose chicks. The hawks are also most likely the reason for the
geese’s late brooding in June: they are simply copying the hawks and thus
enjoying their protection.
Nearly a hundred zoos
across Europe are home to red-breasted geese, but they have only produced young
at around ten. One of these is Basel Zoo, which has now had its red-breasted
geese back for two years – previously this species lived at the zoo for many
decades until 1990. In the 1950s and 1960s, the use of DDT began killing off
Arctic birds of prey. Until that point, red-breasted geese had continued to
brood under their protection. Hunting also increased sharply during this same
period. The decline in red-breasted goose numbers could only be halted when
efforts were made to protect the bird along their entire migration route. Today,
no-one knows exactly how many red-breasted geese there are, and their
population fluctuates widely. However, we can be certain that numbers are less
than 100,000, they are hunted in their wintering sites of Russia and
Kazakhstan, and their habitat is disappearing. The species has therefore been
classified as ‘vulnerable’ by the IUCN.