In 1942, there were only 15 whooping cranes left in the wild. In the past seventy years the population has slowly increased. Dozens of organizations saw to their protection, hundreds of scientists and volunteers raised young, documented their numbers, lobbied for funds, and devoted their lives to the white bird’s continued survival. Today whooping cranes number close to 400 in the wild; 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), made up of American and Canadian scientists, oversees the cranes’ recovery and recommends policies to the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Canadian Wildlife Service. The WCRT has three primary objects: to protect the Aransas/Wood Buffalo Flock and increase its population to forty breeding pairs, to 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 to maintain a species in captivity to protect the gene pool. The current policies in place are making progress with more than 160 whooping cranes breeding in captivity, but although additional populations have been re-introduced into the wild, as of yet none of those have been self-sustaining.
However, whoopers still face problems during migration. Just within the last few months, the Eastern Migratory Flock, which travels from Wisconsin to Florida, lost five bird due to gunshots. Three were killed in Calhoun County, Georgia in December and two more were shot and killed in Cherokee County County, Alabama in February.
The USFWS and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Board are conducting an investigation and have offered rewards of more than twenty-thousand dollars for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of those responsible. These mortalities have decreased the number of adult whooping cranes in the EMP to 94, the lowest number in three years.
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