Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Louisiana Whooping Cranes Not Doing Well

Whooping Crane / Photo by Ryan Hagerty (USFWS)
Over the past year, U.S. and Canadian wildlife conservationists began an attempt to establish a third Whooping Crane population in Louisiana. (The others are a wild flock that breeds in Woods Buffalo National Park in Canada and winters in Aransas NWR in Texas and a reintroduced flock that migrates between Wisconsin and Florida.) So far, the birds have not fared well, with four of the ten birds dying of natural causes and another two being shot to death. Reintroduction is a long-term project, though, and having a third flock is important enough to keep it going despite the initial setback.
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 endangered-species conservation....

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 disasters.
Another 16 Whooping Cranes will be released at the same site in Louisiana next month. Hopefully this group will fare better.