September 16, 2010

Flying Free...

Too often the news we gather from the mainstream media about Russia is bad news, and the humor is rather acerbic and based on dark stereotypes. So it is refreshing when we receive a bit of unqualified good news, about average people doing the hard work it takes to keep a society, and our world, spinning on its axis. Margaret Williams of the WWF reported to us on September's release of 85 Aleutian Cackling Geese into the wild:

These  geese were the most recent of many generations hatched in captivity, and cared for by Dr. [Nikolai] Gerasimov and his wife Alla, who raised hundreds  of these birds in a modest  facility they built in the early 1990’s. Over the years they have released over 500 of the geese into the wild. On Friday, in a bittersweet journey (this was likely to be the last release), we loaded all but a few geese and flew by heli to a remote island in the Kurile Island chain to release the birds into the wild. The goal is to help them re-establish a wild population after this species was nearly wiped out by predatory foxes that the fur farmers introduced nearly 100 years ago on the Kurile and Aleutian Islands. Thanks to the dedication and commitment of many Alaskan biologists, that same species  (some say it’s a sub-species) made a comeback in Alaska and was removed from the Endangered Species List.
Dr. Gerasimov  began to dream about making a similar success possible in Russia. Since the late 1980’s he has worked with American and Japanese colleagues to make his dream a reality. In the ensuing decades he has  received modest in-kind and financial support from Japanese and Russian donors, and people from around the world who visited his facility in Kamchatka. Over the past couple of years, WWF provided support for the helicopter to transport the birds. But mostly, it was blood, sweat and tears, and a deep love for nature that kept the Gerasimovs focused on this conservation goal for so long.
Ekarma Island, where we released the geese on Friday, is mammal-free and is absolutely wild and pristine! Steep cliffs, the lack of a natural harbor, and  thick kelp forests created natural barriers against human visitors. Deep cushions of tundra vegetation, lush grasses, wildflowers and bright mountain ash shrubs  surrounded us when we landed. A faint scent of sulfur wafted from fumaroles on volcanic mountaintops hidden in the  mist. Ekarma is magical.
The geese  will spend their winters in Japan, where hunting bans, improved wetlands and agricultural management, and growing public awareness are helping the birds to survive until the following summer, when they will return to this island Shangri-la in Russia.  Each winter there have been more geese, and the last year’s count was 89. Friday was an exciting and inspiring day.
Dr. Gerasimov and his wife devoted his retirement to these birds.  Sadly, Alla Gerasimova is no longer with us, but her contribution was evident as the birds took flight on Friday.   It  is an honor  to know Dr. Gerasimov, a true conservation hero!
There is good news out there. You just need to know where to look...


[Photo courtesy Margaret Williams]

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