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Biologists wearing white gowns head-to-toe walking through nets in a marsh holding whooping cranes.
Information icon Biologists tend to whooping cranes in one of the release pens at White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area. Photo by Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

Whooping crane reintroduction continues in Louisiana

The whooping crane reintroduction effort is well underway in southwestern Louisiana. Since 2011, 10-16 hatched juveniles have been released annually here into the non-essential experimental population (NEP). The original release pens are located at White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area, and in 2016 a new release area was added 19 miles to the south at Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge. The expanded release areas allow the NEP to receive more juvenile cranes for release into the wild. This will bring us closer to the recovery plan’s goal of achieving a self-sustaining population of 25 breeding pairs for 10 years.

The whooping crane NEP is now composed of 57 birds, with 29 males, 27 females, and one unknown. Biologists from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries monitor the population, and they are reporting improvements in reproduction as more of the cranes released as juveniles reach breeding age. In the winter of 2016, five mating pairs made a total of nine nest attempts. These nesting attempts included the first successful wild-hatched whooping crane in Louisiana since 1939.

With the expanded release facilities, and the diligent work of project managers, larger release cohorts can be accommodated annually to make the NEP more robust and bring it closer to becoming a self-sustaining population. This crane recovery effort is a great example of the importance of collaboration between state and federal agencies, leveraging the strengths of both the Service and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to achieve measurable conservation results.

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