Heartwarming moment a researcher becomes a foster mother to a flock of birds who were extinct in Europe on the final episode of Planet Earth III.
The final episode of the BBC One documentary follows Katharina Huchler, in Austria, as she teaches the Northern Bald Ibis to migrate by flying over the alps with them in a paraglider-like contraption.
Katharina had to trick the birds into thinking she was their parent, because they did not know where to migrate to with no example to follow.
Speaking on the programme Sir David Attenborough said it was ‘really very touching’ to see a human being sensitive in a ‘nature-loving way’.
In a clip from the episode, Attenborough said: ‘Katharina Huchler is about to become a foster mother, and these are her new babies, 28 of one of the world’s rarest birds, Northern Bald Ibis.
‘When the species were flourishing the chicks followed their parents, but there aren’t enough of them to lead onto their migratory journeys, you can’t be raised without a parents or someone who will act in the way parents do.’
Northern Bald Ibis are amongst the rarest birds in the world after they were hunted to extinction in Europe more than 300 years ago, with the last remaining birds mainly living in Morocco.
As part of a daring plan to bring them back to their former habitat, Katharina took eggs from a zoo to rear the chicks herself.
She was with them all day, every day, feeding them and talking to them, – a process called imprinting – so that the young birds would follow her everywhere.
Katharina said: ‘They know that they need to go somewhere but they don’t know in which direction and how far, so they need to learn the route from their parent.’
For the migratory birds to survive in the wild, they must fly south in the Autumn over the perilous Austrian Alps to the warm feeding grounds of Italy.
Normally they would follow their natural mothers – but Katharina had to show them the way, using a microlight aircraft to teach her young birds to fly to safety.
The BBC One documentary follows Katharina Huchler, (pictured) in Austria, who raised a flock of Northern Bald Ibis chicks
Speaking on the programme Sir David Attenborough said it was ‘really very touching’ to see how sensitive Katharina had been with the birds
Normally the birds would follow their natural mothers – but Katharina had to show them how to migrate, with the help of a microlight craft
Since filming the series another 60 of the birds have successfully been taught to migrate
Attenborough added: ‘The sequence of the researchers is calling the birds, then leading them on along the mountain range, is one of the most touching, but not even touching, optimistic, sequences that I can think of.
‘Human beings are acting in a disinterested, caring, loving way towards the natural world, when I see that happening, to devote your life, I find it very touching.’
Katharina said: ‘What we are trying to do, apart from saving the ibis, is trying to give hope to people, if we can bring back one species we can also do it with others.’
Producer Director Steve Greenwood says:’This was the most extraordinary conservation story that I had ever come across so I just had to have it in the heroes film.
‘It is both inspiring and astonishing. Filming it was a huge challenge as the birds could never see or hear the director and the film crew.
‘When the young birds were in the container or the aviary, we were hidden in a hide, with just the lens of the camera poking out. Questions were written down and sent to the foster mothers on our mobiles.’
The final episode of Planet Earth III is on BBC One and iPlayer this Sunday at 18.20.