Whooping Cranes’ Battle for Survival Continues
Part Two: Escaping the Bullet
By Kathleen Kaska
In the past five decades since ornithologist Robert Porter Allen and his team of nest hunters searched for the whooping crane nesting site in Canada, the population has slowly increased. Dozens of organizations see to their protection, hundreds of scientists and volunteers raise young, document their numbers, lobby for funds, and devote their lives to the white bird’s continued survival. Today, whooping cranes number close to six hundred: not a large number, but considering their reproductive challenges and odds against them, biologists and ornithologists are encouraged by the increase. But the endeavor to save the whooping crane is far from over.
The Whooping Crane Recovery Team (WCRT) oversees the cranes’ recovery and recommends policies to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Canadian Wildlife Service. The WCRT has three primary objectives: protect the Aransas/Wood Buffalo Flock and increase its population to forty breeding pairs, establish a second and even a third flock in the wild, either migratory or non-migratory, in case trouble befalls the Aransas/Wood Buffalo cranes, and maintain a species in captivity to protect the gene pool. Despite the efforts to save North America’s tallest bird, the species continues to struggle for survival.
The following is a list of intentional and accidental killings of whooping crane in just the past four years.
- January 12, 2013 – Dallas hunter shot and killed juvenile whooping crane, near San Jose Island in Texas. The crane was part of the Wood Buffalo/Aransas flock.
- April 2012 – Hunter shot and killed whooping crane in Hand County near Miller, South Dakota. The crane was on migration from Texas to Canada.
- January 28, 2011 – Whooping crane number 4-12 from the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) was shot dead on its winter territory in eastern Alabama. He was part of a breeding pair, which had just produced a chick.
- February 2011 – Another whooping crane, number 22-10 was shot and killed in the same area in eastern Alabama.
- December 30, 2011 – Whooping crane number 5-06 of the WCEP was found shot to death in Jackson County, Indiana.
- October 10, 2011 – Two young whooping crane siblings numbers L8 and L10, which hatched in June 2011 at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland, were shot and killed in their new winter home in White Lake, Louisiana.
- December 2010 – Three whooping cranes, two males and a female from the WCEP, were shot and killed in Calhoun County near Albany, Georgia.
- December 2009 – At the time, the only successful breeding female, number 17-2 from the WCEP, was shot and killed in Vermillion County, Indiana.
A few arrests have been made, but many of the shootings remain unsolved. The Friends of Aransas/Matagorda National Wildlife Refuges, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department, and the International Crane Foundation have offered rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible.
Kathleen Kaska, writer of fiction, nonfiction, travel articles, and stage plays, has just completed her most challenging endeavor. The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story, a true story set in the 1940s and 50s, is about Audubon ornithologist Robert Porter Allen whose mission was to journey into the Canadian wilderness to save the last flock of whooping cranes before encroaching development wiped out their nesting site, sending them into extinction.
Kathleen also writes the Sydney Lockhart Mystery series and the Classic Triviography Mystery series published by LL-Publications. She also keeps a blog, Kathleen Kaska Writes on Birds and Books.