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Captive-reared Mississippi Sandhill Cranes Killed by Predator in Gautier, Mississippi

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 17, 2004

Contacts:
Al Schriver,
228/497-6322, Ext. 22
Jim Rothschild, 404/679-7291

 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that seven Mississippi sandhill cranes were killed last weekend by a predator, most likely a bobcat, two miles north of Ocean Springs on the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge. The cranes were part of a restocking effort with captive-reared birds to bolster the wild population. Mississippi sandhill cranes are one of the most critically endangered bird subspecies in North America.

Since 1981, the refuge has been successfully releasing cranes to try to prevent extinction of this subspecies found only in the Jackson County area of Mississippi. The success of this effort, the world’s largest crane release program, is largely due to extensive habitat restoration including controlled burning.

“Our refuge biologists discovered the birds early Saturday during a daily status check of the cranes,” said Al Schriver, refuge manager. “The carcasses were very fresh indicating a kill just before dawn. Tracks at the site, along with other evidence, point to a bobcat as the culprit.”

The sandhill crane population, once distributed throughout the Gulf costal plain, was reduced to 30 to 35 cranes by the 1970’s due mainly to habitat loss. Much of the loss was caused by the conversion of open pine savanna to pine plantations following World War II. Fire suppression resulted in open savannas changing to overgrown pine scrub. The post war building boom, accelerated by the introduction of air conditioning, rising living standards, and interstate construction as well as thousands of people moving to the Mississippi Gulf Coast to live and visit reduced habitat to small islands. Cranes have also been directly harassed, shot, and may even suffer the effects of environmental contaminants.

“Predation continues to be the number one cause of death in all crane age classes and is a major factor limiting a self-sustaining population,” said Scott Hereford, refuge biologist.

The elimination of predators like the panther and red wolf, and the increasing population of the coyote have resulted in a much higher population of potential “crane-eating” predators than was here previously. Since unnatural [altered] predator-prey populations are a result of human actions, many conservation programs for endangered species rely on predator management as part of recovery efforts.

The Service has an interagency agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services office in Starkville to provide predator control, including bobcats, at the refuge.

“No predator control program eliminates all predators,” Schriver said. “Our goal is to reduce predation to a level that the population can sustain. This event was a unique and unfortunate one.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 545 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to State fish and wildlife agencies.




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