How far would you go to foster a baby animal? Most of us understand that fostering, or any form of raising an animal, is nothing to sniff at. Depending on the animal, it means dedicating a given amount of your free time and effort to ensure that the precious animal under your care is getting the absolute best that you can give them. For example, orphan baby rhinos require the constant presence of their caretakers so they grow up into well-adjusted adult rhinos. When that animal happens to be the Northern Bald Ibis, a European bird that was hunted into extinction in the 17th-century, they need some extra special care from some dedicated humans.

Raising a Northen Bald Ibis, Europe’s most endangered species of ibis, means giving up a lot more than a few hours a week — it’s a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week kind of job. But two women, Anne-Gabriela Schmalstieg and Corinna Esterer, are willing to go the distance. Every six months each year, the duo become full-time foster mothers to Northern Bald Ibis chicks via the European LIFE+ reintroduction program.


Could you give up coffee if it meant saving an endangered species? For the entire first month of the chicks’ lives, Schmalstief and Esterer must abstain from coffee, alcohol, and cigarettes because just like a mama bird, they have to spit in the baby birds’ food to make it easier to digest.

Raising baby ibises is a 24/7 job. Cuddle time is essential to ensuring that the chicks will follow Schmalstief and Esterer when the time comes to show the young birds the migratory pattern that they’ll follow for the rest of their lives.

Raising ibises is hard work, but it’s well worth the effort. At this time, there are 80 Northern Bald Ibises living in the wild and Schmalsteig and Esterer have raised 63 of them. 

Once the chicks are old enough, the pair of foster moms boards an aircraft for a 20-day journey from Austria to Italy to the very same breeding ground used by their ancestors. According to Schmalstieg, “For us it is very emotional. The birds follow the aircraft because we are sitting in it.”

European LIFE+


The European LIFE+ reintroduction program is currently on track to meet their goal of 120 birds living in the wild by 2019. We cannot give enough praise to all the time and effort spent to bring the Northern Bald Ibis further away from total extinction. Thank you, Schmalstieg and Esterer! The world needs more people like you.

To learn more about the European LIFE+ program and their work, visit their official website.


In text image source: Audobon