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Whooping Crane

Longest Flight of Endangered Whooping Cranes and Ultralight Aircraft Successfully Ends


December 3, 2001

Chuck Underwood, 904-910-6254
Joan Guilfoyle, 612-810-6797

The longest study using ultralight aircraft to teach whooping cranes a new migration route ended in Citrus County, Florida, today, when the migration team of Operation Migration Inc. a founding partner in the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP), flew the last 25 miles of a 1,200 mile journey, landing in a secluded location early this morning. The cranes will move to their final winter home tomorrow when the costumed pilots lead the birds to a remote, isolated site on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge.

The arrival in Citrus County marks the end of a historic first step to reintroduce a migratory flock of whooping cranes into eastern North America. Over the next four years additional whooping cranes will be introduced to the southern migratory route from Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin to Florida’s central west coast. Ultimately it is hoped the project will establishment a self-sustaining flock of at least 25 breeding crane pairs.

In order to maintain their wild nature, the young whooping cranes, raised by costumed handlers and in isolation, will continue to interact only with costumed biologists and not be exposed to humans. A temporary feeding station and night pen will be provided for a few days, after which they will be allowed to come and go as they choose. Throughout the winter the cranes will have fresh water and feed provided as a supplement to their daily natural diets. They will also be monitored by biologists and tracked on their return route in the spring of 2002.

Whooping cranes are the most endangered crane on earth, having recovered from a low of only 21 birds in 1941 to slightly over 400 today. Nearly half of that number, however, live in one wild migrating flock that moves between Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories of Canada and Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, managed by the U. S Fish and Wildlife Service, on the Gulf Coast of Texas, and are subject to hurricanes, contaminants and disease. To help ensure the species’ survival, the International Whooping Crane Recovery Team (WCEP member) decided that a second wild flock of migrating whooping cranes should be established in the eastern United States. In 1999, the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership was formed to bring together critical expertise from federal and state governments and non-profit organizations.

Other partners include the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, U.S. Geological Survey Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, the International Crane Foundation, the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

The introduction project also has the support of 20 eastern U.S. states, numerous public and private agencies and organizations, as well as private landowners throughout the seven-state flyway.

Patuxent Wildlife Research Center on the Whooping Crane

Whooping Crane Reintroduction Project

Whooping Crane Photos

US Fish and Wildlife Service Endangered Species page

The photos below were taken by Jennifer L. Rabuck, Park Ranger, Necedah National Wildlife Refuge (click on the smaller one to bring up larger dpi photo).
Whooping Cranes following behind an Ultralight

Whooping Cranes following behind an Ultralight

Whooping Cranes following behind an Ultralight

Whooping Cranes following behind an Ultralight

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2001 News Releases

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