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Birth control at the zoo: vets meet the elusive goal of hippo castration

One method for controlling zoo animal populations is male castration. For hippopotami, however, this is notoriously difficult, as the pertinent male reproductive anatomy proves singularly elusive. A team of veterinarians led by Chris Walzer from the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology, and colleagues,  have demonstrated a successful method for castrating male hippos. Their results are published in the journal Theriogenology.

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(Web editor 20 December 2013)

Ural owls move in at Wilhelminenberg

The new tenants have moved in: After adapting an old kea parrot aviary at Wilheminenberg for ural owls, a couple has taken up residence.  The two owls have adjusted well to their new home despite the stress of relocation and are getting along very well - we are therefore hopeful that new owl offspring will arrive in 2014.  A big thank you to the animal caretaker team at KLIVV and FIWI! 

More info on the project in the latest Newsletter (in German).

(Web editor 18 December 2013)

International conference on balancing renewable energy and nature in the Alps, Brig, Switzerland, 12-13 November 2013

Where and how can we use renewable energy sources in Alpine countries while protecting natural ecosystems?  First answers to this question were proposed at an international conference in Switzerland.  Representatives from the arenas of politics, administration, energy, conservation, and science discussed possible solutions and presented conrete examples from the Alpine region.  The recharge.green project, which is led by the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology, is co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund within the framework of the  Alpine Space Programme.

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Fat and fit: How dormice make optimal use of their body fat reserves

Edible dormice store considerable amounts of fat in summer. Their fat reserves are necessary for them to survive a long hibernation – on average 8 months – in underground cavities. How do hibernators allocate surplus body fat reserves to optimize survival? A research team led by Claudia Bieber at the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology  found that animals with larger fat reserves prefer boosting their metabolism more often to shortening their hibernation. This protects their body from cold damage.  A long hibernation also protects them from predators since they remain well hidden.  The results are published in the Journal Functional Ecology. 

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(Web editor 22 October 2013)

New FWF project approved: Physiological limits in Syrian golden hamsters

The FWF Austrian Science Fund recently approved a new project of Teresa Valencak of the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology. In response to high metabolic requirements such as during periods of cold exposure, high long-term physical activity or throughout lactation animals raise their metabolic rate whilst maintaining their body weight through increased food intake and energy assimilation. However, in all of these situations, there are limits to energy turnover, even in the presence of unlimited food. Thus, animals may not only be limited by food availability in the environment, but also by metabolic ceilings, also referred to as the “physiological limit”.  The team around Teresa Valencak will investigate whether in lactating Syrian golden hamster females  the extent of heat produced as a byproduct of both metabolism and milk production constrains the nutrient quantity that females can assimilate.  

(Web editor 9 October 2013)

Personality differences: In lean times red deer with dominant personalities pay a high price

Saving energy is important for humans and animals alike when resources are limited. A team around Walter Arnold of the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology of the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, found out that although higher-ranked red deer gain privileged access to patches of food, they also have higher metabolic rates and thus use more energy. This can be a serious disadvantage in the winter when red deer rely largely on their limited stored body fat to survive.

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(Web editor 18 September 2013)

Lynx offspring in National Park Kalkalpen

In 2011 lynx female "Freia" was relocated from Switzerland to the Kalkalpen National Park.  This year she gave birth to three young, two females and one male. Agnes Haymerle und Georg Rauer of the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology joined a team of experts who visited the birthing cave in July 2013.  On request of the working group "LUKA" (lynx Kalkalpen) they collected DNA samples and data on litter size, sex ratio and health status of the lynx cubs. They were able to locate Freia, because she wears a radio collar. The LUKA working group includes, apart from FIWI, the Kalkalpen National Park, the Upper Austrian Hunters´Association, Naturschutzbund, WWF, and the Austrian Federal Forests.  It aims to establish a viable lynx population in the northern Kalkalpen.  

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(Web editor 9 August 2013)

Endurance "sport": Control of more than 250 Ural owl nest boxes

The nest box monitoring season has started, and the content and condition of the owl housing has to be checked.  The control of the network of by now 280 nest boxes is quite labour-intensive - whether they are inhabited or not.  This year, as expected, only a few boxes are occupied:  Of 50 boxes in Styria, only one has a nest, and in about 60 boxes checked by our team in the wilderness area Dürrenstein we also found only 1-2 with "tenants".  In the Vienna Woods about 33 of the available 125 boxes were used by owls.  These modest results are due to a collapse of the mouse population, which followed on an excellent mouse - and therefore owl - year in 2012.  This in turn has to do with the availability of seeds of beech trees: in 2012 European beech trees produced only minor quantities of beechnuts.  Prospects are good for 2013 though - the high pollen count this year should mean a prosperous mouse year in 2014 - and a richly laid table for the owls!   

More info (in German) on the Ural owl in the new Silva Fera special edition.

(Web editor 28 June 2013)

International Conference on Diseases of Zoo and Wild Animals 2013

From 8 to 11 May the International Conference on Diseases of Zoo and Wild Animals 2013 took place in Vienna.  At the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology participants took part in various practical workshops: Emergency evacuation and anaesthesia, expeditionary wildlife capture and telemetry, and field necropsy and samplingwere on offer.

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(Web editor 12 May 2013)

And the beat goes on...: The reliable heartbeat of hibernators

At current temperatures, all hibernators have probably emerged from their winter hibernation and are enjoying the warm weather. However, this is quite different during the cold season. Many small mammals such as marmots, hedgehogs, bats and some hamsters, and even some birds have a particular skill: they can induce a state of inactivity and reduced metabolic rate to significantly lower their energy consumption when food becomes limited and ambient temperatures drop. Fat depots accumulated before the winter, are consumed during hibernation. During this state, known as torpor, their heartbeat and breathing slow down and the body temperature can approach 0°C. To date, the mechanisms underlying the maintenance of cardiac function at low body temperatures are poorly understood. Now, scientists at the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, together with colleagues at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, have found that certain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids regulate the cardiac function and hence hibernation. These fatty acids control the process of maintaining a regular heartbeat, achieving lower body temperatures during hibernation and thereby ensuring the hibernator’s survival. 

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(Web editor 7 May 2013)

Hibernation keeps the body young

Small hibernating rodents, such as the edible dormouse (Glis glis) have greater maximum lifespans and hence appear to age more slowly than similar-sized non-hibernators. It has long been thought that this is partly due to a protective function of hibernation. The direct effect of this energy-saving mode can be seen in the relative telomere lengths in the body´s cells . Telomeres  act like a protective cap to keep chromosomes stable.  As cells age and divide, these telomeres become shorter (oxidative stress).  So the length of telomeres can tell scientists something about the aging process. Thomas Ruf, Claudia Bieber, and colleagues analysed tissue samples of edible dormice and found that the telomere lengths of adult animals increased during the active phase in the summer and decreased slightly over the winter.  

The article Seasonal variation in telomere length of a hibernating rodent”  appeared in the international journal biology letters online in February 2013

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(Web editor 28 Feb. 2013)

The first wolf management plan for Austria is ready

The Transnational Coordination Office for the brown bear, lynx, and wolf (KOST), in consultation with stakeholder representatives, has developed new guidelines for wolf management in Austria, Wolfsmanagement in Österreich. Grundlagen und Empfehlungen (2012, in German only). After the last autochthonous wolf populations in Austria disappeared in the course of the 19th century, only a few wolves from neighbouring countries reached Austria now and then.  With the introduction of stricter protection laws in Europe wolf populations in surrounding countries have stabilised, and over the last 15 years wolf visits to Austria have become more frequent.  An increase in in-migration of wolves is expected.  The task of wolf management is to create structures and measures that enable a largely conflict-free co-existence of people and wolves.  The new national management plan provides a framework and guidelines for the implementation of measures in individual Austrian provinces.  

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(Web editor 15 Feb. 2013)

In search of the big questions: conserving the European Alps

In Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, the world had to wait ten million years to learn the question to the ultimate answer.  This might be justifiable for a question of such staggering importance but it would strain the patience of a scientist considering what research to undertake.  In fact, one of the hardest things in science is asking the right questions, particular when the issue under debate is as broad as the conservation of biodiversity.  Scientists thinking of studying the preservation of the threatened ecological communities in the European Alps now have no excuse for addressing the “wrong” question:  a paper published today in the prestigious online journal "PLoS ONE" gives the fifty “most important questions relating to the maintenance and restoration of an ecological continuum in the European Alps”.  The first and corresponding author is Chris Walzer of the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology, Vetmeduni Vienna.

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(Web editor 15 Jan. 2013)