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FIWI Annual Report 2016

The FIWI annual report for 2016 (in German only) can be downloaded by klicking on the picture.
Cover Foto of the FIWI Annual Report 2016




The wild ass returns

The first group of kulan that were captured in a corral in Altyn Emel National Park. (Photo: John Linnell/NINA)
Khulans running in a corral [Link 1]

For the first time in more than a century, Khulans - or Asian wild asses - roam the central steppes of Kazakhstan. Veterinarians and biologists of the Department of Conservation Medicine (FIWI) of the Vetmeduni Vienna provided technical support for the relocation of the first nine animals.

On October 24, 2017, a first group of animals were brought to an acclimatization enclosure on the edge of the Altyn Dala Reserve in central Kazakhstan. The animals had been transported 1200 kilometers by helicopter from the Altyn-Emel National Park in the southeast of the country. They will be released in the spring. This is the first step in a multi-year project that aims to restore the full range of large herbivores in this unique steppe habitat. Khulans once lived in the Middle East and Central Asia - from the Mediterranean to eastern Mongolia. During the last two centuries, their distribution has been dramatically reduced to less than 3% of their former habitat.

The current project aims to bring 30-40 kulans into the central steppes of Altyn Emel over the next 3-4 years.

More info [Link 2]

(Web editor, 14 November 2017)




Family ties among ural owls in the Vienna Woods

According to recent research, our free-range breeding birds are on average 5 years old. Over the last few years, the average age has steadily increased, indicating that mating is permanent and mortality rates remain low. (Photo © Jessica Winter)
Ural owl in the woods [Link 3]

Genetic examinations allow us to uniquely identify animals and gain insight into their family ties. In this way the identity of 9 out of 10 Habichtskauz breeding pairs (i.e. 18 adult birds in total) in the Vienna Woods could be determined unequivocally.

The 10th breeding pair remained incognito. However, from the genetics of the couple's chicks we were able to conclude that the adult birds are not owls released by us. We assume that they were born unnoticed by us in the Wienerwald Biosphere Reserve. This has probably happened before. Not all broods are detected by the resettlement team. That's why a few more owls may roam through the Vienna Woods and the Dürrenstein wilderness area than our minimum-number estimates suggest.Visitors regularly appear at the release sites (see video [Link 4]).

More info [Link 5]

(Web editor, 31 October 2017)


Reintroduced Przewalski’s horses have a different diet than before their extinction in the wild

The diet of the Przewalski's horses changed to grass after their reintroduction in the Gobi desert. (Photo: Martina Burnik Sturm/Vetmeduni Vienna)
Photo of Przewalski´s horse with a foal in the steppe [Link 6]

The preferred fodder of horses is grass. This is true for domestic horses as well as for wild horses in the Gobi Desert. A team of researchers from the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology from the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna found out through tail hair analysis that before their extinction in the wild Przewalski’s horses had been on a different diet than today. Thanks to improved societal attitude, the horses have now access to richer pastures. In former times, the wild horses were hunted and chased away into less productive habitats.

The Przewalski’s horse, also called Takhi or Mongolian wild horse, is the only remaining wild horse species. In 1969, wild horses were officially declared extinct. However, a few animals survived in captivity. In 1992, first captive bred wild horses were returned to the wild.

Petra Kaczensky and Martina Burnik Šturm from the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology from the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna now found out that before their extinction in the wild Przewalski’s horses were on a mixed diet. In summer, they only ate grass, in winter also less nutritious bushes. After their reintroduction, the animals only eat high-quality grass throughout the year.

The article  "Stable isotopes reveal diet shift from pre-extinction to reintroduced Przewalski’s horses [Link 7]” by Petra Kaczensky, Martina Burnik Šturm, Mikhail V. Sablin, Christian C. Voigt, Steve Smith, Oyunsaikhan Ganbaatar, Boglarka Balint, Chris Walzer and Natalia N. Spasskaya was published in Scientific Reports.

More info [Link 8]

(Web editor, 21 July 2017)


Johanna Painer wins the Ippen Young Scientist Award 2017

Wildlife specialist Johanna Painer was awarded the Ippen Young Scientist Award 2017. (Photo Vetmeduni Vienna)
Photo of veterinarian Johanna Painer with an anesthetised brown bear [Link 9]

The prize of the European Association of Zoo and Wildlife Veterinarians for Young Scientists was awarded to Johanna Painer in 2017. The wildlife veterinarian from the Department of Integrative Biology and Evolution of Vetmeduni Vienna received the prize of 1000 Euro for her previous achievements in the field of wildlife medicine. The award commemorates the renowned wildlife pathologist and co-founder of the international conference on diseases of zoo and wild animals, Rudolf Ippen.

Johanna Painer studied veterinary medicine at Vetmeduni Vienna and specialized in the interdisciplinary field of conservation medicine. Ultrasonography, mammalian anesthesia and reproductive management for large cats, ungulates, bears, primates and large herbivores are her main focus. She has been involved in many wildlife projects and is engaged in the fight against wildlfie crime and illegal animal trafficking.

She is currently working as a veterinarian and researcher in the veterinary team at the Department of Integrative Biology and Evolution of Vetmeduni Vienna. There she is responsible for a variety of veterinary, clinical and research-related tasks, concerning large carnivores, wild ungulates, wild boars, small winter beetles and birds. Her current research focus is on biomimicry of the kidneys of animals and humans. With a team of human and veterinary clinics as well as biologists, Painer tries to find synergies between veterinary and human medicine.

In remembrance of Rudolf Ippen

The Ippen Young Scientist Award [Link 10] is awarded by the Leibnitz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) and the European Association of Zoo and Wildlife Veterinarians at an annual conference. The prize is  presented to honour veterinarian and pioneer of wildlife pathology Dr. Rudolf Ippen, who died in 2009. The Award honours young scientists whose scientific output, particularly publications of the past 12 months, document the beginning of a promising career in wildlife veterinary science, conservation medicine, or zoo animal medicine.

(Web editor, 13 July 2017)


Ural owls flying in

A ural owl pair from Switzerland will be resettled in the Vienna Woods (pictured is the male). (Photo: Georg Mair / Vetmeduni Vienna)
Young ural owl with foot band [Link 11]

Small birds with a great mission: 30 young owls will be released within the framework of the ural owl reintroduction project in Austria. Two animals arrived at the airport Vienna-Schwechat on a special flight from Switzerland on Friday. The journey for the three ural owls from the Schönbrunn Zoo was much shorter.

The small owls are now being prepared for life in the woods by researchers of the Vetmeduni Vienna.The new home of the two ural owls from Switzerland will be the Vienna Woods biosphere reserve. The three young birds from Schönbrunn will be released in the Lower Austrian wilderness area Dürrenstein, Austria's last primary forest. "This year we are able to release a total of 30 young birds to strengthen the Habichtskauz population," says project leader Richard Zink from the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology of Vetmeduni Vienna. After nine years of project implementation, 18 breeding pairs have already been found in the wild in 2017 and have successfully raised offspring.

The year 2017 has set a record for the reintroduction: a total of 50 young owls have hatched in the wild "Despite this success, we must be aware that this recently established population is still under threat," notes Zink. At least 50 breeding pairs are necessary to sustain the population. A premature end of the project would be risky and could lead to the re-extinction of ural owls in Austria.

Project website [Link 12]

(Web editor, 12 July 2017)


Suspicion of African swine fever in the Czech Republic

Symbolic picture ((c) K. Svadlenak-Gomez)
Photo of wild boar females with piglets [Link 13]

The Ministry of Health (BMGF) was informed by the Czech veterinary authorities on 27 June 2017 that African swine fever (ASP) was detected in Zlin (80 kilometers from Austria) in two wild boars. Due to the current case it is to be assumed that ASP is common in the Czech wild boar population. The BMGF therefore took immediate action with precautionary measures for Austria.

The pathogen of African swine fever (ASP) is a virus and belongs to the virus family Asfarviridae. The virus is not dangerous to humans; in pigs and wild boars, on the other hand, the disease is often fatal, depending on the virulence of the pathogen. The African swine fever virus (ASFV) is a double-stranded enveloped DNA virus.

In Austria, African swine fever has so far never occurred. [Link 14]

African swine fever: BMGF is taking precautionary measures [Link ]

Further information on African swine fever, the situation in Europe and the measures in Austria can also be found on the website of the BMGF Consumer Health Communication Community [Link 15]. 

Sources: AGES, BMGF

(Web editor, 28 June 2017)


Vetmeduni Vienna Open House 2017 on 10 June

Many of our scientists and students were available for visitors to ask questions about wildlife or research projects. (Photo K. Svadlenak/Vetmeduni Vienna)
Photo of the Dept. 5 info stands at the Open House 2017 [Link 16]

Visitors were able to look behind the scenes at the Vetmeduni Vienna on the open house day. The two research institutes of the Department of Integrative Biology and Evolution presented a number of exciting wildlife-related topics, looking at displays and trying out various fund tasks at our information booths.   They could also go on a "speed date" with our researchers at the Science Café [Link 17] to find out about dromedaries and camels, colours in the animal kingdom, or "goblins of the night". In addition, young visitors could try their hands at drawing and making animal crafts with our creative team.

The whole programme  [Link 18]is available online.

(Web editor, 12 June 2017)


Obituary for Senator h.c. SC i.R. Wilhelm Grimburg

Senator h.c. SC i.R. Wilhelm Grimburg
Portrait photo of Dr. Grimburg

On 27 May 2017 Section Chief  i.R. Dr. Wilhelm Grimburg passed away at the age of 95.  The Vetmeduni Vienna remembers its honorary senator with great fondness.  His extraordinary engagement for wildlife research contributed considerably to the foundation of the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology, which is today one of the university´s foremost research institutes.  Without him during his active time as head of research of the former Ministry for science and research our institute would not exist. 

We honour his memory with gratitude.




Don't move: To ensure a constant food supply edible dormice rather give up their favourite food

The seeds of beech trees are rich of energy, but not available every year. The edible dormouse thus avoids areas with high density of these trees. Edible dormice choose areas with more conifers and just a few beech trees to have a consistent food resource. (Photo: Jessica Cornils/Vetmeduni Vienna)
Photo of edible dormice with pups in nest box [Link 19]

Rodents such as the edible dormouse feed preferably on high-energy seeds. They deliver the energy needed for reproduction and help juvenile animals put on the necessary fat reserves before their first hibernation season. But this important food source is not available every year. Beech trees save energy by producing seeds only in certain years and on a large scale, these years are called mast years. Edible dormice adapt to this cycle with a pragmatic choice of territory. A long-term study by researchers from the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology of the Vetmeduni Vienna has now shown for the first time that edible dormice avoid areas with a high beech density. Instead, they prefer areas with a balanced mix of conifers and beech trees. The alternative food source allows the rodents to survive non-mast years without having to move to a new territory. However, they still  find enough beech seeds to reproduce and feed their offspring during mast years.

The article   „Edible dormice (Glis glis) avoid areas with a high density of their preferred food plant – the European beech“ [Link 20] by Jessica S. Cornils, Franz Hölzl, Birgit Rotter, Claudia Bieber and Thomas Ruf appeared in the journal Frontiers in Zoology.

More info [Link 21]

(Web editor, 24 May 2017)


Smelly feet as a signaling device

Graphical abstract. The study demonstrates that brown bears do have pedal glands that produce specific and sexually dimorphic scent, and display behavioural patterns related to pedal marking. (Drawings by Katarzyna Chrząścik for Scientific Reports 7, Article Nr. 1052, Fig.4).
Graphic showing the study of bear feet odour [Link 22]

Brown bears in the wild walk long distances and are not territorial. Researchers from Poland, Spain and Austria have now discovered that while walking they spread smell signals via their foot prints. They discovered 26 different chemical components in the sweat glands of the bear paws, 6 of which were found exclusively in males. The bears also use a special gait from time to time, a kind of "marking dance", in which they produce deep footprints. The scientists conclude that the foot odor in the bear world serves for intra-species communication between individuals, the smell being an olfactory and the footprint itself a visual message. Chemical signals are also found in many other mammals. They can provide information about identity, gender, territory, social status, reproductive readiness, or group affiliation. In addition to their soles, bears also use other methods to leave their odor, e.g. tree rubbing. The marking behaviour was frequently observed, particularly during the mating season. It is therefore probable that bear foot odour is also used to give female bears information about the attractiveness of possible partners.

The study was conducted by Agnieszka Sergiel and Nuria Selva from the Polish Academy of Sciences. Johanna Painer from the Department of Integrative Biology and Evolution procured the bear samples for histological examination.

The article “Histological, chemical and behavioural evidence of pedal communication in brown bears [Link 23]” by Agnieszka Sergiel, Javier Naves, Piotr Kujawski, Robert Maślak, Ewa Serwa, Damián Ramos, Alberto Fernández-Gil, Eloy Revilla, Tomasz Zwijacz-Kozica, Filip Zięba, Johanna Painer & Nuria Selva was published in Scientific Reports .

You can watch a short video [Link 24] about the study.

(Web editor,  23 May 2017)


ARTEMIS Award for Science 2017 goes to Walter Arnold of FIWI

Walter Arnold receiving his prize at the ceremony (Photo Georg Hofer/Der Anblick)
Photo of Walter Arnold at the award ceremony [Link 25]

On May 4, 2017 the ARTEMIS Award [Link 26] for Science was awarded to Prof. Dr. Walter Arnold of the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology of the Vetmeduni Vienna. Through proactive communication ARTEMIS tries to bridge the gap between the hunting and non-hunting population in Austria.  The Artemis-Charity Association uses proceeds from donations at the gala to benefit children from underprivileged families or single-parent mothers.  Prizes were awarded for innovation and technology, for science, for promoters of hunting, and for business.

Knowledge about the health, needs and behaviour of wildlife is of great importance to hunters, as it can influence the practice and methods of hunting. Prof. Arnold's more than 30 years of experience in wildlife research and his willingness to share his knowledge in popular science media with hunters and a broad public have contributed significantly to the understanding of wildlife biology. For example, he and his team have found out that the energy supply of wild animals varies enormously throughout the year, which has an impact on wildlife management (e.g., feeding).

Prof. Arnold emphasized during the award ceremony that he was accepting the laudation for the entire research team at FIWI.

Watch the award ceremony on Jagd und
 [Link 27]

(Web editor, 11 May 2017)



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Seminar at Wilhelminenberg

Every Wednesday during the academic semester the "Seminar at Wilhelminenberg" takes place at our house, a scientific colloquium where leading scientists from around the world present their latest research.  

Seminar programme [Link 36]


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