The Leibniz-IZW is an internationally renowned German research institute. It is part of the Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V. and a member of the Leibniz Association. Our goal is to understand the adaptability of wildlife in the context of global change and to contribute to the enhancement of the survival of viable wildlife populations. For this purpose, we investigate the diversity of life histories, the mechanisms of evolutionary adaptations and their limits, including diseases, as well as the interrelations of wildlife with their environment and people. We use expertise from biology and veterinary medicine in an interdisciplinary approach to conduct fundamental and applied research – from the molecular to the landscape level – in close dialogue with the public and stakeholders. Additionally, we are committed to unique and high-quality services for the scientific community.

+++ Current information on African swine fever: The Leibniz-IZW conducts research on the population dynamics, on models of disease outbreaks in wild boars and on the ecology and human-wildlife interaction in urban areas. African swine fever is a reportable disease in domestic swine and therefor is the purview of the respective federal state laboratories and the Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut (Federal Research Institute for Animal Health) FLI. +++

News

Representatives of Tierpark Berlin, Safari Park Dvůr Králové, Leibniz-IZW and Berlin's Senator of Finance Stefan Evers announcing the rhino facility at Tierpark Berlin (photo: Jan Zwilling)
Representatives of Tierpark Berlin, Safari Park Dvůr Králové, Leibniz-IZW and Berlin's Senator of Finance Stefan Evers announcing the rhino facility at Tierpark Berlin (photo: Jan Zwilling)

Tierpark Berlin establishes research station for international species conservation program BioRescue

Press release of the Tierpark Berlin - The Northern White Rhinoceros is on the brink of extinction; only two females remain, living in a nature reserve in Kenya. Without collaborative action, this rhinoceros species, once native to Central Africa, will disappear from the Earth forever. Although the extinction of this subspecies of the White Rhinoceros seems inevitable, researchers from the international BioRescue team, led by the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW), Germany, and coordinated by ZOO Dvůr Králové, Czech Republic, are working on developing and utilizing new methods of vital reproduction for wildlife to save these ecologically valuable giants from complete extinction. Tierpark Berlin will now cooperate with these scientists to implement a crucial step in the project, which will hopefully result in one of the first calves of this endangered species.

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Destroyed wire snares collected at Thua Thien Hue Saola Nature Reserve (photo by Phạm Việt Nước/WWF-Viet Nam)
Destroyed wire snares collected at Thua Thien Hue Saola Nature Reserve (photo by Phạm Việt Nước/WWF-Viet Nam)

Wire snare removal in protected areas is labour-intensive but effective – and essential to solving the Southeast Asian snaring crisis

Snaring – a non-selective method of poaching using wire traps – is widespread in tropical forests in Southeast Asia. Snaring decimates wildlife populations and has pushed many larger mammals to local or even global extinction. Eleven years of data from ranger patrols in the Thua Thien Hue and Quang Nam Saola Nature Reserves in Viet Nam show that intensive removal efforts are labour-intensive and costly but brought snaring down by almost 40 percent and therefore reduced imminent threats to wildlife. Further reductions were difficult to achieve despite continued removal efforts. Snare removal is therefore necessary but by itself not sufficient to save the threatened wildlife diversity in tropical forests, scientists conclude in the journal “Conservation Letters”.

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Zebras and giraffes in Ruaha National Park (photo: Claudia Schmied)
Zebras and giraffes in Ruaha National Park (photo: Claudia Schmied)

Out on dry land: Water shortage threatens species in Ruaha National Park in Tanzania

Climate change is not the only cause of arid landscapes: a research team led by the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) has investigated the consequences of increased water abstraction for agriculture and livestock farming from the Great Ruaha River. This river, which used to flow continuously, now dries up for months at a time. The scientists showed that some herbivores were able to partially compensate for the temporary lack of water through their diet, whereas others have little or no ability to do so. In particular, African buffalo, plains zebra and waterbuck were sometimes severely restricted in their habitat use as a result. The effects of water scarcity on Ruaha National Park’s biodiversity are described in an article in the scientific journal “Wildlife Biology”.

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Wind turbines in Costa Rica (photo: Cesar Badilla Miranda/Unsplash)
Wind turbines in Costa Rica (photo: Cesar Badilla Miranda/Unsplash)

Wind energy and bat conservation: scientists call for the global application of measures to reduce fatalities

The construction of wind turbines as a cornerstone for the production of climate-friendly electricity is rapidly increasing all over the world – and everywhere this results in major challenges for bats, which die directly at the turbines or lose valuable habitats in their vicinity. A research team from Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Kenya, Puerto Rico, Taiwan, the United Kingdom and the USA now analysed possible solutions to this green-green conflict on a global scale and identified the steps required to improve the balance between climate protection and biodiversity conservation. For example, scientifically proven methods for reducing bat casualties need to be implemented more consistently into regulations for the operation of wind turbines worldwide and significant research gaps on the interaction of bats with turbines in countries of the Global South and in tropical ecosystems need to be closed, the team writes in the scientific journal “BioScience”.

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Spotted hyena hunts for small bird at a waterhole in Namibia (photo: Miha Krofel)
Spotted hyena hunts for small bird at a waterhole in Namibia (photo: Miha Krofel)

Small birds spice up the already diverse diet of spotted hyenas in Namibia

Hyenas are generalist predators (and scavengers) with a broad range of prey species. They are known for hunting (or scavenging) larger mammals such as antelopes and occasionally feed on smaller mammals and reptiles. Being flexible in the choice of prey is a strategy of generalists – and this even extends to small passerine birds, as scientists from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) and the University of Ljubljana observed in Namibia: Spotted hyenas pursued red-billed queleas, picked them from the ground or the surface of a waterhole and swallowed them whole, at a success rate of approximately one bird every three minutes. These observations were described for the first time in word, photos and videos in the scientific journal “Food Webs”.

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Spotted hyenas in the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania (photo: Sarah Benhaiem)
Spotted hyenas in the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania (photo: Sarah Benhaiem)

When inequality is more than “skin-deep”: Social status leaves traces in the epigenome of spotted hyenas in Tanzania

A research consortium led by scientists from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) provide evidence that social behaviour and social status are reflected at the molecular level of gene activation (epigenome) in juvenile and adult free-ranging spotted hyenas. They analysed non-invasively collected gut epithelium samples from both high-ranking and low-ranking female hyenas and showed that rank differences were associated with epigenetic signatures of social inequality, i.e., the pattern of activation or switching off of genes that regulate important physiological processes such as energy conversion and immune response in several genome regions. The results, published in the scientific journal “Communications Biology”, contribute to a better understanding of the role of epigenetic mechanisms in the interplay of social, environmental and physiological factors in the life of a highly social mammal.

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A rodent of the Melomys genus (photo by Carlos Bocos)
A rodent of the Melomys genus (photo by Carlos Bocos)

A rare recent case of retrovirus integration: An infectious gibbon ape leukaemia virus is colonising a rodent’s genome in New Guinea

Retroviruses are viruses that multiply by incorporating their genes into the genome of a host cell. If the infected cell is a germ cell, the retrovirus can then be passed on to the next generation as an “endogenous” retrovirus (ERV) and spread as part of the host genome in that host species. In vertebrates, ERVs are ubiquitous and sometimes make up 10 per cent of the host genome. However, most retrovirus integrations are very old, already degraded and therefore inactive – their initial impact on host health has been minimised by millions of years of evolution. A research team led by the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) has now discovered a recent case of retrovirus colonisation in a rodent from New Guinea, the white-bellied mosaic-tailed rat. In a paper in the scientific journal "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", they describe this new model of virus integration. The observations on this process will help to improve our understanding how retroviruses rewrite host genomes.

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BioRescue embryo transfer on September 24, 2024, in Kenya (photo: Jan Zwilling)
BioRescue embryo transfer on September 24, 2024, in Kenya (photo: Jan Zwilling)

World’s first successful embryo transfer in rhinos paves the way for saving the northern white rhinos from extinction

BioRescue, an international consortium of scientists and conservationists, succeeded in achieving the world’s first pregnancy of a rhinoceros after an embryo transfer. The southern white rhino embryo was produced in vitro from collected egg cells and sperm and transferred into a southern white rhino surrogate mother at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya on September 24, 2023. The BioRescue team confirmed a pregnancy of 70 days with a well-developed 6.4 cm long male embryo. The successful embryo transfer and pregnancy are a proof of concept and allow to now safely move to the transfer of northern white rhino embryos – a cornerstone in the mission to save the northern white rhino from extinction.

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