Wildlife Partnership Helps Birds Migrate

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"Fly Away Home" Movie Has Real-Life Counterpart

(09/11/1996) - As Columbia Pictures officially releases its inspirational family film "Fly Away Home" on Friday, September 13 in New York City, dozens of Canada geese such as those portrayed in the film are preparing for their fall migratory flights on which they will be helped by a real-life conservation partnership called the Migratory Bird Project.

Dubbed the "ultrageese" because they were taught migratory behavior by conservationists in ultralight aircraft, the geese will be monitored on their fall migratory flights by a joint venture between Environmental Studies in Virginia and the Washington, D.C.-based Defenders of Wildlife. The project is dedicated to helping birds reestablish migratory patterns.

Dr. Bill Sladen, director of Environmental Studies, who acted as technical advisor on Columbia's film stated, "We formed this partnership with Defenders to carry ultralight migration training to the next logical step--the conservation of imperiled bird species." Dr. Sladen is a world-renowned waterfowl expert and was the role model for Dr. Killiam in the film.

Sladen regularly visits the goose who played "Igor" in the film and watches over the ultrageese flock during their stay at the Airlie Center near Warrenton, Virginia. Defenders' President Rodger Schlickeisen added, "We are very excited about this film and applaud Columbia Pictures' courage and foresight in bringing this important conservation story to the big screen.

Defenders is also proud to work with Dr. Sladen and cooperatively use this ultralight technology to help the Trumpeter Swans and Whooping Cranes, that have somehow lost their way." MORE Bob Ferris, director of Defenders' species conservation division, added, "This is a perfect marriage of Defenders' action-oriented wildlife advocacy and the technical skills of the staff at Environmental Studies. In this project Defenders will draw heavily on our successful experiences with Yellowstone wolf recovery work to find solutions that work both for humans and wildlife."

Following this fall's migration, the partnership will switch gears and start working on an ambitious and challenging effort to restore Trumpeter Swans to their historic place in East Coast ecosystems using lessons we're learning from the ultrageese. Trumpeter Swans, the largest of all American waterfowl, have been gone from the East for over 180 years and the remaining populations in the Lower 48 states are vulnerable to such perils as the continued loss of wintering habitat, the concentration of wintering flocks at relatively few sites, and the lack of migration in several wild and restored flocks.

The Migration Project's present plan is to establish an experimental migration of trumpeters from Environmental Studies headquarters at Airlie Center's Sanctuary in the Virginia Horse Country to the historic Lake Cove Farm, a Defenders' staffed facility near Crapo on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

"Although a lot of logistical and legal hurdles have to be overcome, we are optimistic that residents along the Atlantic Seaboard will soon see these majestic white birds which are a vibrant part of America's wildlife heritage," Ferris stated.

About Defenders of Wildlife: Founded in 1947, Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native wild animals and plants in their natural communities. Defenders programs focus on what scientists consider two of the most serious environmental threats to the planet: the accelerating rate of extinction of species and associated loss of biological diversity, and habitat alteration and destruction. Long known for our leadership on endangered species issues, Defenders of Wildlife also advocates new approaches to wildlife conservation that will help keep species from becoming endangered.

About Environmental Studies: The Environmental Studies is concerned with the protection and enhancement of natural habitat and promoting biological diversity for the enrichment of human life. The Swan Research Program at Airlie uses swans as ambassadors to create an awareness of the importance of wetlands; encourages the Tundra Swan to winter in the area; seeks the restoration of the rare Trumpeter Swan to its former wintering grounds in Virginia and Maryland; and discourages the further spread of the alien Mute Swans and eventually replacing them in the wild with native swans.

For information on the Migratory Bird Project contact Defenders of Wildlife at (202) 682-9400. For technical information on the ultrageese project contact Environmental Studies at (540) 341-3239 or (540) 349-1493.

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Contact(s):

Bob Ferris, 202-682-9400 x229 (Conservation)
Ken Goldman, 202-682-9400 x221 (Media)
Donielle Rininger, 540-341-3239 (ES)
Dr. William Sladen, 540-349-1493 (ES)