Endangered whooping crane shot and killed



An endangered whooping crane/Credit USGS

Why in the world would someone shoot a whooping crane? That’s what authorities and biologists want to know. Sometime between November 28th and December 1st, an endangered whooping crane was shot and killed near the town of Cayuga, Indiana, while stopping for rest along her southward migration.

Only a few hundred whooping cranes (Grus americana) remain in the wild. The bulk of these spend their winters along the Texas Gulf Coast – most in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge – and breed during summers in muskeg swamps in Alberta, Canada.

Having only one wild population leaves any endangered species highly vulnerable to extinction, since a disease, or a hurricane, or any natural disaster could wipe out the entire population.  So in 2001, biologists started trying to create a second population. This new population of whoopers nests in Wisconsin and migrates south to Florida for the winter - though at this point most are still reared in captivity then introduced to the new population. The bird shot and killed in Indiana was one of only a couple dozen animals in this smaller population.

Tragically, this particular seven-year old female, identified by a unique colored leg band, happened to be the only successfully breeding mom within the experimental population. In 2006, she became the only whooping crane born in captivity and released to the wild to have successfully reared offspring. One of her and her mate’s two hatched chicks died, and biologists named her surviving chick “Wild-1.” 

It’s actually quite a fascinating story because to create this experimental population, chicks have been raised in captivity at the USGS Patuxtent Wildlife Research Center by people wearing crane costumes and hand puppets. They’re taught to fly by a man in a crane costume flying an ultralight airplane! And when it’s time to migrate in late fall, that same person flies the ultralight, leading the young cranes from Wisconsin to their new wintering grounds in Florida - led by Operation Migration (and made famous by the movie Fly Away Home). Because of the vulnerability of these majestic and rare Aves, finding a bird killed is appalling.

Is this a case of mistaken identity by a hunter- or someone sabotaging the breeding program? Two other whooping cranes have been shot and killed since 2001 and just recently, in late November, somebody vandalized the the Operation Migration hangar in Necedah, WIsconsin. Authorities The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and International Crane Foundation are offering at least $2500 for anyone who provides information leading to a conviction in the case. Anyone with info can call the 24-hour Indiana Department of Natural Resources hotline at (800) 847-4367.

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