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A multi-national approach to lynx protection in Europe: 3Lynx

The Eurasian lynx is a critically endangered species protected by national laws and the EU Habitats Directive. The main threat to the survival of lynxes is illegal killings due to lack of acceptance, and the fragmentation of habitats, which hinders migration. In addition, non-harmonized (national) monitoring and management measures impede a coordinated approach. The challenge is to integrate lynx surveillance, protection and management into a common strategy at the transnational level. The 3Lynx project, in which the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology is involved as a project partner, will do this by protecting three lynx populations in the area Austria, the Czech Republic and Bavaria, as well as Slovenia and Italy.  The capacities of stakeholders can be improved through exchange of experience, data and tools, and the introduction of harmonized lynx monitoring measures at the population level. The project will also be an instrument to actively involve the main stakeholders, hunters and foresters, in the conservation of the lynx.

More info

(Web editor, 15 December 2017)

The wild ass returns

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.

<link en infoservice presseinformation press-releases-2017 the-wild-ass-returns>More info

(Web editor, 14 November 2017)

Family ties among ural owls in the Vienna Woods

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).

More info

(Web editor, 31 October 2017)

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

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” 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.

<link en infoservice presseinformation press-releases-2017 reintroduced-przewalskis-horses-have-a-different-diet-than-before-their-extinction-in-the-wild>More info

(Web editor, 21 July 2017)

Johanna Painer wins the Ippen Young Scientist Award 2017

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 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

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

(Web editor, 12 July 2017)

Suspicion of African swine fever in the Czech Republic

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.

African swine fever: BMGF is taking precautionary measures

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. 

Sources: AGES, BMGF

(Web editor, 28 June 2017)

Vetmeduni Vienna Open House 2017 on 10 June

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 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 is available online.

(Web editor, 12 June 2017)

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

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“ by Jessica S. Cornils, Franz Hölzl, Birgit Rotter, Claudia Bieber and Thomas Ruf appeared in the journal Frontiers in Zoology.

More info

(Web editor, 24 May 2017)

Smelly feet as a signaling device

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” 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 about the study.

(Web editor,  23 May 2017)

ARTEMIS Award for Science 2017 goes to Walter Arnold of FIWI

On May 4, 2017 the ARTEMIS Award 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

(Web editor, 11 May 2017)

Platform StadtWildTiere „goes nuts“ and national for a new Citizen Science Award

The platform "powered by" biologists of the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology of the Vetmeduni Vienna is launching a new initiative. While hobby researchers have only been able to report on wild animals in the Viennese urban area, citizens of all nine provincial capitals are now eligible to take part in the new Citizen Science Award project. The focus for the coming two months is the squirrel. In addition to the chance to win prizes for individual hobbyists, there is also a category for school classes, and the capital city with the most squirrel observations will be named the "Squirrel Capital of Austria". From 1 May, therefore, the platform´s slogan is  "Hörnchen zählen - Hauptstadt wählen".In order to observe squirrels, you do not have to equip yourself with a night vision camera or wait for twilight. The rodents are exclusively active during the day. Your chances of spotting a squirrel are particularly good  in small forests, in parks or in cemeteries. Old, clear tree stands that are connected to each other offer ideal habitat. This requirement can also be present in  inner courtyards in  urban areas. The presence of the wild neighbours is sometimes betryed by pine cones that are shed on the ground or nibbled nutshells.  The nests of the small rodents can also be a clew. They are placed in tree tops with small branches, grasses and other nesting material.The start of the new national Citizen Science Award project is the 1st of May.  Registration is possible directly through the website of the platform, where you can also find  the conditions for successful participation and additional information about squirrels. The closing date is 30 June. Of course any other wild animal species in the urban area can still be reported on the platform.

More info (German)

(Web editor, 28 April 2017)

Taming the late Quaternary phylogeography of the Eurasiatic wild ass through ancient and modern DNA

The phylogeny (i.e. evolutionary history of organisms) of the assumed species and subspecies of the “Asiatic wild ass grouphas been debated since the end of the 19th century. Today the distribution range of this once widespread group of Asiatic equids is greatly reduced and highly fragmented. To understand the evolutionary and historical processes that lead to the contemporary geographic genetic representation of the Asiatic wild ass group it is necessary to also include the past. Researchers, including Petra Kaczensky and Chris Walzer of the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology of the Vetmeduni Vienna, studied the genetic diversity and inter-relationships of both extinct and extant populations over the last 100,000 years. 

The research group examined samples from ancient, historic and extant species and subspecies in the Asiatic wild ass group throughout its range from Western Europe to Southwest and East Asia. Using a short section of a highly variable parts of the mitochondrial genome allowed the inclusion of information from extremely poorly preserved ancient samples. Resulting phylogenetic trees, placed all non-African wild asses into eleven clades (branches of the phylogenetic tree). Results challenge the current taxonomic subdivision into different species as they place the extinct European wild ass, E. hydruntinus, as well as the kiang, E. kiang, within the Asiatic wild ass, Equus hemionus, group of subspecies (Dziggetai, Khur, Onager, Kulan, and the Syrian Hemippus).

The phylogeographic organization of clades resulting from these efforts can be used not only to improve future taxonomic determination of a poorly characterized group of equids, but also to identify historic ranges, interbreeding events between various populations, and the impact of ancient climatic changes. In addition, appropriately placing relict populations into a broader phylogeographic and genetic context can better inform ongoing conservation strategies.

The article “Taming the late Quaternary phylogeography of the Eurasiatic wild ass through ancient and modern DNA” is published in the journal PLOS ONE.

(Web editor, 26 April 2017)

A surprising difference in the prevalence of amyloid disease in two wild hare populations

Amyloidosis is a group of diseases in which abnormal proteins, known as amyloid fibrils, build up in tissue due to protein misfolding.    Amyloid protein can collect in many parts of human and animal bodies and affect the functioning of different organs.  Systemic amyloidosis has not often been described in either captive or free-ranging European brown hares.  A team of wildlife pathologists led by Annika Posautz from the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology (FIWI) of the Vetmeduni Vienna examined a total of 594 hares from different populations in Lower Austria and northern Germany (on the island of Pellworm), as well as captive-bred hares raised at FIWI.  They performed a pathohistology of all organs and an immunohistochemistry.  They found that 22% of the Lower Austrian population, only 5.4% of the Pellworm population, and none of the captive bred hares showed varying degrees of amyloid deposition.  Liver, spleen, kidneys and in some animals the small intestine were affected.  None of the affected animals had shown any clinical signs of disease prior to death.  The overall health status of the two free-ranging hare populations did not differ significantly enough to explain the difference in amyloid prevalence between them.  Further investigations are needed to show whether different environmental conditions, such as climate, habitat, and proximity to livestock and wild birds may influence the development of the disease.

The article “Different population – different prevalence or, what is going on in the European brown hare (Lepus europaeus)” by Annika Posautz, Anna Kübber-Heiss (FIWI) & Per Westermark (Department of Immunology, Genetics and Pathology, Uppsala University) were published in the journal Amyloid.

(Web editor, 25 April 2017)

Raccoon dog represents a more acute risk than raccoon as vector for transmission of local parasites

The raccoon and the raccoon dog are two non-indigenous animal species that have become established in Europe in the past decades. Their increasing abundance has not only made them the most common carnivore species in some countries, but has also made them of interest to parasitologists as potential hosts for diseases. A team of researchers from Vetmeduni Vienna has now analysed samples from both species in Austria. The raccoon dog, which is more closely related to the fox, was shown to serve as an additional host for local parasites. Like the fox, it represents a risk as a host of zoonotic parasites, such as the fox tapeworm or trichina worms, that are also of relevance for humans. The raccoons sampled, as they mainly originated from fur farms, were still largely pathogen-free. The article "The raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides) and the raccoon (Procyon lotor)—their role and impact of maintaining and transmitting zoonotic diseases in Austria, Central Europe" by researchers at the Institute of Parasitology, the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology, and at AGES was published in the journal Parasitology Research. 

More info 

(Web editor,  06 April 2017)

ALPBIONET2030 – Protection for the Alpine Space

Protected areas and connected natural axes - landscapes that wildlife can cross - form the basis of an Alpine “ecological network” for the protection of habitat and biodiversity. Such regional nature networks are now receiving additional support through the ALPBIONET 2030 project, which is funded by the European Union´s Alpine Space Programme. In various work packages, conditions for the implementation of ecological connectivity measures and national biodiversity strategies throughout the Alpine region will be improved. The Conservation Medicine Unit of the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology, Vetmeduni Vienna, is responsible for the management of a work package for the analysis and improvement of Alpine wildlife management strategies, as well as the development of standardized forensic methods, which will be helpful for combating wildlife crime.

More info in a news article of the Vetmeduni

Internal project website

(Web editor, 14 March 2017)

New FWF project on polyunsaturated fatty acids and seasonal acclimatization

A new project financed by the Austrian Science Fund FWF was recently launched on the topic of "Polyunsaturated fatty acids and seasonal acclimatization".   Profound changes of metabolic rate and body temperature seem to be ubiquitous among birds and mammals living in seasonal environments, as is associated membrane remodelling. However, specific effects of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) in phospholipids suggest trade-offs determining seasonal changes of the fatty acid composition of membranes that are largely independent of direct dietary intake.   The current project investigates in detail effects of PUFA on seasonal acclimatization in red deer. 

The project´s principal investigator is Univ.Prof. Dr. Walter Arnold, Head of the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology. 

(Web editor, 10 February 2017)

New FFG project on thermoregulation in wildboar is expected to bring important insights for wildlife management under climate change

A new research project financed by the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG) is intended to improve understanding of the population dynamics of wild boars in times of climate change. The project "Wildlife Management in Climate Change: Studies on Thermoregulation in Wild Boars" examines how the body temperature of wild boars changes throughout the annual cycle. It also analyzes how extreme heat periods or cold spells affect body temperature. The effect of the energy budget on survival and reproduction will also be recorded. At the same time, the researchers are observing behavioral changes and activity patterns of wild boars under various climatic conditions. The long-term objective is to use the results obtained from this basic research as a basis for the development of new wildlife management strategies.

The project is led by Dr. Claudia Bieber from the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology.

(Web editor, 9 Feburary 2017)

The coexistence of man and bear in pictures - start of the photo competition FINDING BEARINGS

The LIFE DINALP BEAR Project team is pleased to announce that the FINDING BEARINGS photo contest is now officially opened. The coexistence of man and bear offers a variety of challenges, but also possibilities. All photographers, whether amateur or professional, are welcome to participate in the contest. The project partners are looking for pictures of bears in their natural environment, but also other pictures which show a successful coexistence with this charismatic species are welcome.

More Info 

(Web editor, 10 April 2017)