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Conservation shot down

When hunters shoot birds of an endangered species, we are reminded that our own species is, sadly, not very good at sharing.

Scientists and conservationists are mourning Goja, a northern white ibis killed this month by illegal hunters in Italy.

Not many of the innumerable birds shot by hunters have names. But Goja had been raised in captivity, in a project to rebuild the population of this critically endangered species.

It is the misfortune of this bird to be both migratory and large. Its 120-centimetre wingspan makes it an easy target, so it has all but vanished from the Middle East, Europe and North Africa. About 500 birds in Morocco are virtually the only known wild breeding population.

Goja's sad fate shows the difficulty of reintroducing a species. Biologists have been hand-raising these birds, and teaching them to migrate from breeding areas in Germany to winter homes in Italy, by leading them with ultralight planes. Goja, having done that once, made the journey unaided last year. She was making another trip when she was shot. Almost half of last year's 37 migrating birds were also lost to hunters.

Scientists are enthusiastic about the follow-the-light-plane method of reintroducing species to their ancestral homes. But the image of Goja being blasted out of the sky by a trigger-happy hunter with a shotgun but no licence is a cheerless metaphor for our own species's failure to coexist.

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