months have left just four survivors in the new colony at Louisiana's White Lake
wetlands, imperilling a wildlife recovery project that has involved dozens of
Canadian and American experts and has attracted high-profile support from U.S.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
Fewer than 400 whooping cranes live in the wild, migrating annually between
breeding grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park on the Alberta-Northwest
Territories border and their wintering site at the Aransas National Wildlife
Refuge in Texas.
Another 200 or so whoopers live in managed flocks, and the 10 birds released
to the Louisiana reserve in February - including four hatched from eggs raised
at a Calgary Zoo breeding facility - represented a significant portion of the
species' entire population in a strategically important new habitat for one of
the world's most threatened animals.
"Losing two cranes, especially in such a thoughtless manner, is a huge
setback in the department's efforts to re-establish a whooping crane population
in Louisiana,'' Robert Barham, secretary of the state's wildlife and fisheries
department, said in a statement about last month's crane deaths. ``We take this
careless crime very seriously.''
Cindy Dohner, a conservation officer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,
added: ``This is a profound setback to the many people and organizations who
have worked so hard to bring this magnificent bird back to Louisiana.''
Eyewitness reports led investigators to the suspected shooters, who are
facing a variety of possible charges under U.S. federal and state laws.
News of the deaths has struck hard at the Calgary Zoo, where conservation
research director Axel Moehrenschlager called the loss of the birds ``very, very
``It is disappointing when an endangered species is directly killed by
people,'' he added. ``It could be a one-case occurrence or it could be a symptom
of things that could continue in the future and I think investigations need to
look at it very seriously in that light.''
But Moehrenschlager noted that bringing a vulnerable species back to a former
habitat is, by definition, an enormous conservation challenge.
``Reintroduction programs are difficult because a species has disappeared
from an area for good reasons - oftentimes very overarching and powerful reasons
that have driven the species to extinction in that site,'' he said. ``Most
reintroduction programs, because of these challenges, in fact, fail, (so) it's
really crucial not to be deterred by something like this in the first year.
People need to have the courage to carry on and stay with the original
Prior to February's reintroduction, the last time a wild whooping crane was
seen in Louisiana was in 1950. The conversion of marsh habitat to farmland,
destructive hunting practices and other factors led to the bird's disappearance
from the region.
But the Louisiana reintroduction has had strong backing from Salazar, U.S.
President Barack Obama's top conservation official, who described the whooping
crane as ``an iconic species'' whose return to the state represented a
``milestone moment'' for international wildlife preservation.
The whooping crane's population was down to just 22 in 1941, prompting a
joint U.S.-Canada recovery effort that has become a global model for
Along with the world's last remaining, naturally migrating whooping crane
population from Wood Buffalo park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, there's a
non-migratory flock in Florida and a Wisconsin-based migratory flock that has
been trained to follow an ultralight aircraft to Florida each winter as part of
another unique, Canadian-led recovery project.
But the proposed Louisiana flock is considered crucial to eventually removing
the species from North America's endangered list because increasing the number
of separate, self-sustaining populations - and diversifying the range of
whooping crane habitats - is seen as the bird's best defence against a
catastrophic collapse from disease, an extreme weather event or other
The Calgary Zoo's whooping crane breeding centre in De Winton, Alta., just
south of Calgary, maintains a Wood Buffalo-derived captive flock of about 20
birds. Through natural breeding and artificial insemination, a few dozen
fertilized whooping crane eggs are produced annually - sometimes with the
assistance of more plentiful sandhill cranes that are enlisted to sit on and
help incubate the unhatched whooping crane chicks.
Just a day or two before the baby birds poke their beaks through the shells,
the eggs are carefully packed and flown to a partner facility in Maryland, not
far from Washington, D.C.
At that site, the U.S. Geological Survey's Patuxent Wildlife Research Center,
the newborn cranes are raised to adulthood before being sent to the Wisconsin
flock, to one of the colonies in Florida, or - as of this year - Louisiana.
Next month, another 16 whooping cranes are scheduled to be released to the
state's White Lake reserve to bolster the much-reduced pioneer population of
Ahead of the Nov. 19 start of duck- and goose-hunting season across
Louisiana, state wildlife officials launched an education effort to remind
hunters that whooping cranes are strictly off-limits and to urge them to
``positively identify your target before you shoot.''
Read more: http://www.canada.com/Endangered+whooping+crane+recovery+suffers+major+setback/5772830/story.html#ixzz1f0thmu16