Expedition member Jànos Tar from the Hortobágy National Park Directorate in Hungary carrying out a morning count. © Attila Szilágyi, Hortobágy National Park Directorate
Bonn 17 February 2017 – The AEWA Lesser White-fronted Goose Working Group is pleased to announce the completion of a new report which features the outcomes of an international expedition carried out in Kazakhstan in September-October 2016 with the goal to obtain up-to-date estimates for the Western main Lesser White-fronted Goose (Anser erythropus) population, as well as for the global population of Red-breasted Geese (Branta ruficollis). Both species are globally threatened and are ranked as ‘Vulnerable’ in the IUCN Red List.
The steppes of northern Kazakhstan, as well as adjacent areas in bordering Russia host vast numbers of migratory geese each autumn as they stop to refuel on stubble fields and roost on nearby lakes. This crucial stop-over region is currently the only area where surveys to determine the status of the Western main Lesser White-fronted Goose population are possible, as the birds are spread out throughout the range during the rest of the year and many of the sites they use – particularly during the wintering season – remain unknown.
Carrying out waterbird surveys in this region is, however, extremely challenging both logistically and scientifically. There are thousands of roosting lakes spread across a vast area with water levels changing from year to year, making it difficult to predict where the birds will be. In addition, the Lesser White-fronted Geese and Red-breasted Geese occur in mixed flocks of geese which can comprise tens of thousands of birds. Thus, the expedition also had the task to assess the survey methods used for monitoring migratory geese in Kazakhstan and to make recommendations for future surveys. This included slightly updating the identification and monitoring guidelines compiled by WWF Finland and adopted by the AEWA Lesser White-fronted Goose International Working Group in 2012.
Key outcomes of the expedition include up-to-date estimates of the population sizes of the two main target species, with a total estimate of 34,250 Lesser White-fronted Geese (95% confidence intervals 28,500 – 40,100 birds) calculated for the Western main population and a total estimate of 50,100 calculated for the Red-breasted Goose (95% confidence intervals 28,100 – 72,600 birds). The estimate for the Western main population of the Lesser White-fronted Goose is particularly encouraging as it indicates that the population is significantly larger than previously assessed (8,000 – 13,000). This large population estimate further confirms that a large portion of the wintering sites in particular, remain unknown.
Led by Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust consultant Dr Richard Cuthbert, the expedition team consisted of Lesser White-fronted and Red-breasted Goose experts from Bulgaria, Finland, Hungary and Kazakhstan, supported by the Norwegian Ornithological Society (NOF/BirdLife Norway) with data from satellite-tagged birds as well as information and experience from previous expeditions.
This project was organized under the framework of the AEWA Lesser White-fronted Goose International Working Group by the UNEP/AEWA Secretariat together with the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK) and the Norwegian Ornithological Society (NOF/BirdLife Norway) and was generously funded by the Norwegian Environment Agency, the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Protection, Nuclear Safety and Building as well as the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust.
Last updated on 17 February 2017