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Whooping Cranes Arrive in Florida Today


November 24, 2001

Chuck Underwood, 904-910-6254

Six whooping cranes lifted off this morning from Cook County, Georgia and entered Hamilton County, Florida. These majestic birds, the largest in North America, have been traveling since October 17, when they left Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin. They are following an ultralight plane that is teaching them a route that will encompass 1,250 miles to eventually arrive at Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Citrus County. The birds are scheduled to arrive at their winter home the week after Thanksgiving, depending on weather conditions.

Eight birds began this historic trip and six continue to fly each day. No. 3 died after flying into a power line the night of October 24 when the pen partially collapsed during extremely high winds in Green County, Wisconsin. Bird No. 4 dropped out halfway to the first stopover site and was retrieved later that afternoon. He has since been transported on the ground to each stopover site where he is released into the overnight pen with the other cranes. The migration team thus has seven birds with them, six routinely flying with the ultralights.

"We are extremely pleased to see the migration going so well and to have these historic residents of the southeast back home again, " said Sam Hamilton, Southeast Regional Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The reintroduction is part of an ongoing recovery effort for the highly imperiled species, which was on the verge of extinction in the 1940s and even today numbers only about 260 birds in the wild. The continent's only migratory population of whooping cranes winters at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Gulf Coast and is vulnerable to a catastrophic event such as a major hurricane, disease or oil spill. This reintroduction would not only restore the whooper to part of its historic range but also provide another geographically distinct migratory population that could lead to downlisting and eventual recovery.

In 1998, a coalition of state and federal governments and the private sector formed the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership to coordinate and fund last year's sandhill crane study and this year's whooping crane study. Over 35 private landowners have volunteered their property as stopover sites for the cranes and migration team. A temporary pen keeps the cranes safe from predators between each morning's flight. The total migration is expected to take from five to seven weeks.

"Establishment of a migratory population of whooping cranes would be a valuable complement to the resident population of whoopers we began establishing in 1993," said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Executive Director, Dr. Allan L. Egbert. "We, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are making significant progress in our battle to save whooping cranes from the threat of extinction."

The whooping crane, named for its loud and penetrating call, is one of America's best known and rarest endangered species. This species lives and breeds in extensive wetlands, where it feeds upon crabs, clams, frogs, and other aquatic organisms. Whooping cranes stand 5 feet tall and are pure white in color with black wing tips and a red crown.

Founding members of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership are the International Crane Foundation, International Whooping Crane Recovery Team, Operation Migration Inc., National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, USGS/Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and Madison Wildlife Health Center, and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Many other flyway States, provinces, private individuals and conservation groups have joined forces with and supported WCEP by donating resources, funding and personnel.

For daily updates, press kits and protocol for how to access the migration team on the road, go to the Media Button at Departure Contact: Chuck Underwood, USFWS 904-910-6254 Recorded daily updates: 612-713-5311.

Media Invite: Media are invited to come to the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge headquarters office in Crystal River, Florida, on the morning of the arrival (to be determined) to photograph the cranes and ultralights enroute to their final mainland landing site. To reserve your attendance at the fly-by photo opportunity and press conference, call 352-563-2088. Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge headquarters is located 70 miles north of Tampa.

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 94-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System that encompasses more than 535 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 70 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices, and 78 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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2001 News Releases

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