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Thursday, 26 September, 2002, 23:57 GMT 00:57 UK
Tagged goose's epic journey
goose's flight
Scientists are celebrating the safe return of a goose to Northern Ireland after it completed a 9,000-mile return migration flight via the Arctic.

The light-bellied Brent goose, called Hugh, returned to the shores of Strangford Lough after a journey taking him to Arctic Canada and back.

He is the only one of six birds, being studied by wildlife experts, to have successfully survived the trip.


His return has enabled us to understand the key staging sights and route that these geese take on their migration

Dr James Robinson, Wildfowl and Wetland Trust
One - Kerry - was found in the freezer of an Inuit's house on remote Cornwallis Island in August after being shot by a man out hunting.

Two other birds, Arnthor and Oscar, are believed to have died - either killed by hunters or birds of prey.

A fifth, Austin, is missing in action in Canada.

However, it is hoped the last bird, Major Ruttledge, will return to Northern Ireland soon from Iceland.

The birds, all fitted with 3,000 tracker devices, have been taking part in a study co-ordinated by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at Slimbridge, Gloucestershire.

Experts hope the information they gather will help them to devise a plan to protect their population.

James Orr, centre manager at Castle Espie, Northern Ireland, where almost all of the entire world population of 20,000 Brent Geese are based, said he was "delighted" at Hugh's return.

Flight challenges

He said: "At present, there are 7,000 Brent Geese which have returned to the Lough.

"Obviously, we are disappointed that only Hugh so far has made it back but we are hoping that Major Ruttledge will leave Iceland soon and enable us to complete the first stage of this project by researchers at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT)."

During April, the geese leave Northern Ireland on their arduous 4,500-mile journey to Canada - stopping in Iceland along the way.

They stay in Arctic Canada long enough to lay their eggs and rear goslings and then come back by the same route, braving hunters, predators, bad weather and a tricky trek over 3,000-metre ice mountains in Greenland.

Brent goose
Brent geese make a perilous migration journey
Mr Orr said: "Kerry, Oscar and Arnthor died and Austin is still sending out signals from his transmitter in Canada.

"He should have left by now and we suspect he has encountered some problem with either a predator or a hunter.

"It is possible the transmitter may even have fallen off.

"All eyes now are on Major Ruttledge and when he returns."

Dr James Robinson, a WWT senior research officer, has welcomed the return of Hugh, saying he had helped the team understand the challenges Brent Geese face on their exhausting trip.

He said: "His return has enabled us to understand the key staging sights and route that these geese take on their migration.

"While the loss of at least three of the geese was unfortunate, it has given clear evidence of what threats we need to help remove in the future to safeguard this population."

See also:

10 Jun 02 | Science/Nature
04 Nov 01 | Science/Nature
03 Apr 00 | Science/Nature
11 Mar 99 | South Asia
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