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The University Organization Act 1975 for the first time created the possibility to involve private financiers directly in university research. The former Ordinarius for Wildlife Science at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, o.Univ.Prof. Dr. med. vet. Kurt Onderscheka (1926-2019) seized this opportunity. He succeeded in attracting sponsors from industry and the Austrian hunting federations for the promotion of wildlife research. On December 22, 1977, a first for Austria, a research institute was founded that was operated jointly by a university and private donors, organized as a membership association. Kurt Onderscheka was appointed head of the new research institute for wildlife science at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna.  After his retirement in 1995 he was succeeded by o.Univ.Prof. Dr. Walter Arnold, who retired in 2021. From December 2021 to April 2022, Univ.-Prof. Dipl.-Biol Dr. Melanie Dammhahn headed the research institute. She was followed, first ad interim, then since January 15, 2023 as the new head of FIWI, by Univ.-Prof. Dr. Claudia Bieber.

The Society for the Promotion of the Research Institute, founded on 31 March 1977, continues to contribute significantly to the financing of FIWI's research activities. It receives private funds from sponsors and the Austrian regional hunting associations, public funds from the federal government, the city of Vienna and the province of Lower Austria. The high proportion of third-party funds for project-independent basic funding of an institute was a novelty at the time and can still be described as extraordinary today.

The new research institute for wildlife science was initially located on the campus of ​​the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna at Linke Bahngasse, in premises that soon proved to be completely inadequate. The city of Vienna came to the rescue, providing a space for wildlife research at the present-day institute building and the unique 45-acre research enclosure on Wilhelmenberg. After several years of construction, the Wilhelminenberg became a flagship institution in Austria that offers excellent research opportunities to this day. Significant financial resources were provided by the federal government, the city of Vienna, the Austrian hunting associations and private sponsors for the adaptation of the former administrative building of Wilhelminenberg Castle into a modern research facility. The opening of the institute building and grounds took place on 26 November 1982.

The institute flourished, extended its research agendas to ecological contexts and today enjoys international recognition as the "Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology", "FIWI" for short.