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Ultralight - Led Endangered Whooping Cranes Arrive in Georgia Today


November 23, 2002

For interviews or to attend press conferences with the migration team,
Heather Ray, Operation Migration, Inc. - (905) 718-1292 (cell)
Tom MacKenzie, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service - (404) 679-7291 or (678) 296-6400 (cell)
Robin Hill, Georgia Department of Natural Resources - (770) 761-3035 or (770) 310-7026 (cell)

The sixteen whooping cranes from the Eastern migratory flock reached Georgia today on their 1,250-mile fall migration from Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin to Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge along Florida's central Gulf Coast. These majestic birds, the largest in North America, left Necedah on October 13, and were delayed for several days in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee due to wind and rain before reaching Georgia. The birds reached the halfway point of the migration on November 14, 2002 when they landed safely in Fentress County, Tennessee. The birds have been following four ultra light aircraft.

"The Fish and Wildlife Service is proud to be a partner in this multi-year reintroduction project," said Sam D. Hamilton, the Service's Southeast Regional Director. "While weather continues to be a major challenge to the migration's progress, the 16 birds are doing well and we're happy to welcome them to Georgia."

These sixteen whooping cranes are the second generation of birds to make this historic, assisted migration from Wisconsin to Florida. One crane, injured on the first day of the migration when the weather took a turn for the worse causing a mid-air collision, had to be euthanized after it did not respond to 12 days of treatment by veterinarians at the International Crane Foundation. In 2001, seven of the eight whooping cranes that began the pilot fall migration made it to Florida safely. Five of these seven birds survived the winter and made an unassisted, successful spring migration back to Wisconsin. Of the "Class of 2001," one of the cranes, Lucky #7, reached Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Florida on Thursday, November 21. Another crane is heading south and was last seen at the Hiwassee National Wildlife Refuge in Meigs County, Tennessee, which is also one of the stopover sites for the "Class of 2002" cranes. The monitoring team is presently tracking the location of the other three cranes from the "Class of 2001" who are headed south, as well.

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. Except for the Wisconsin-Florida birds now migrating, the continent's only other migratory population of whooping cranes winters at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Gulf Coast. A non-migrating flock of about 100 cranes remain year-round in central Florida, as part of an ongoing reintroduction study led by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. 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, an international coalition of state and federal governments and private organizations formed the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) to spearhead the recovery initiative for the whooping crane, a federally listed endangered species. 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, and all of the team that interacts with the cranes wear costumes to mask their human form and use adult crane puppet heads to mimic adult bird behaviors. The goal of the WCEP is to establish a migrating flock of at least 125 birds including 25 adult breeding pairs, restoring the species to eastern North America.

"We are proud to be a partner in this exciting effort to restore this magnificent bird to Georgia's skies," said Terry Johnson, The Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division's (DNR/WRD) Nongame-Endangered Wildlife Program Manager.

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 aquatic organisms. Whooping cranes stand 5 feet tall and are pure white in color with black wing tips and a red crown.

"The reintroduction of the eastern migratory flock of whooping cranes in Georgia is a prime example of what can be accomplished with strong state, federal and private partnerships," added Mike Harris, WRD's Nongame Wildlife and Natural Heritage Section Chief.

Founding members of the WCEP include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the International Crane Foundation, the International Whooping Crane Recovery Team, Operation Migration, Inc., National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, U.S. Geological Survey's Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and National Wildlife Health Center and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Many other flyway states, provinces, private individuals and conservation groups have joined forces with and support WCEP by donating resources, funding and personnel.

For daily updates and press kits, visit the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership website at

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.

Note: B-roll is available by calling (905) 718-1292. More information can be found on-line at or Daily updates are recorded at (904) 232-2580 ext. 102.


Patuxent Wildlife Research Center on the Whooping Crane

Whooping Crane Reintroduction Project

Whooping Crane Photos

US Fish and Wildlife Service Endangered Species page


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