By Brynn Walling, USFWS
What a comeback!
There are now more than 600 Whooping cranes in North America.
These wonderful birds were almost wiped out, but thanks to the Endangered Species Act, their populations continue to climb – and their recovery stories continue to inspire.
In 1947, Mac was the only Whooping crane left in the entire state of Louisiana. (Photo: USFWS)
For instance, if you were near the Louisiana marshes in March 2011 you may have witnessed some amazing history in the making. Whooping Cranes were freely flying overhead for the first time in 60 years! Conservation efforts paid off and 10 “whoopers” that were raised in captivity were set free to fly the Louisiana Marshes. (Watch it here!)
At one time, the whooping crane population soared between 15,000 – 20,000 birds and their habitats ranged from Central Canada to Mexico and from Utah to the Atlantic coast.
But the birds began to vanish due to the transformation of wetlands and grasslands. Unregulated hunting and specimen collection negatively impacted the population, as well.
In 1939, Fish and Wildlife biologist John Lynch confirmed that only 13 birds remained in Louisiana.
Just two years later, the whooping crane population had decreased from 15,000-20,000 to just 21 birds.
The situation was so dire that, in 1947, there was only one whooping crane left in the entire state of Louisiana. This one lonely whooping crane was taken into captivity and named Mac. Mac was taken to Arkansas National Wildlife Refuge, but sadly, didn’t make it.
In 1956, a captive rearing-and-release program began. Whooping crane offspring would be hatched in captivity and fed mealworms until they were able to care for themselves in an environment that was healthy enough to support them. Our own John Lynch got involved, and would eventually become head of the project. Though he passed away in 1983, his family continues its involvement with the Whooping Crane Conservation Association (http://whoopingcrane.com/).
This program and the people involved changed the lives of whooping cranes. There have been three whooping crane populations introduced to Wisconsin, Florida, and Louisiana. There are currently 13 captive whooping populations.
Our partnerships regarding this effort cannot go unmentioned. We appreciate the consistent support from states, non-profit organizations, zoos, individuals, and Canadian and United States government agencies. These connections have supported efforts to help establish a self-sustaining whooping crane population of 250-300 cranes in Texas and Canada alone.
The Whooping crane recovery story is demonstrative of what the ESA is truly about. We have all worked together for many years with the same goal in mind. The whooping cranes are an example of how supporting one another’s efforts can make a difference.
Brynn Walling is an Administrative Support Clerk with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service