November 22, 2002
Crystal River, Florida – Today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed that the first endangered whooping crane (known as No. 7) from last year’s class has flown 1,300 miles to reach the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge. It made its dramatic entrance to the same spot it flew from seven months ago -- having completed the trek in just over a week. It had been led there last year by ultra light aircraft as part of an experimental group of whooping cranes taught an eastern migration route.
“While she may have been last in line when they designated her, she sure came in first here today,” said Ted Ondler, Deputy Project Leader of the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge. “We’re excited with the arrival of this bird. It means that the project is doing what it was designed to do.”
This particular female whooping crane was part of a flock of seven whooping cranes that learned their migration route between Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin to the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, along Florida’s Gulf Coast, following behind ultra light aircraft. The whooping cranes remained at Chassahowitzka from December 2001 through April 2002, then successfully made their own way back to Wisconsin.
“With the arrival of Lucky No.7, and the 20 others currently in route, the outlook for achieving the project goal is looking brighter and brighter,” says Ondler. “It’s outstanding.”
With only about 400 cranes left in the world, the Whooping Crane Reintroduction Project seeks to re-establish a second population of migrating whooping cranes in North America. Currently, there are two populations of whooping cranes -- a migratory population which winters in and around the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas and migrates to Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park in the spring, and a non-migrating population that resides on the Kissimmee Prairie in Florida. As one, or both, of these fragile populations could be wiped out by disease, natural disaster or a human-caused catastrophe, like an oil spill, the Whooping Crane Recovery Plan, drafted in 1994, charts a course for saving these birds from extinction by establishing a second migratory population of wild whooping cranes, with a minimum of 25 nesting pairs.
The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership was established in 1998 and given the task of establishing a second migratory population of whooping cranes. Composed of public agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and private organizations such as the International Crane Foundation and Operation Migration - which flies the ultra lights. The Partnership has worked long and hard to plan, organize and initiate the Whooping Crane Reintroduction Project.
“The return of this whooping crane represents a milestone for this project as it is the first whooping crane to make the return trip to Florida on its own,” said Sam D. Hamilton, Southeast Regional Director. “It is a really positive sign, and a true complement to the folks from Operation Migration, International Crane Foundation and all the private landowners, state governments and citizens along the entire route that gave so much to help make this happen.”
Biologists are tracking the other four birds, which made up the No.7's flock from last year. Like the first, several of these have begun making their way southward, but whether their journey will bring them back to Chassahowitzka remains to be seen.
In the mean time, a new flock of sixteen juvenile whooping cranes are being led south from Wisconsin, by ultra light aircraft. They are on the Tennessee - Georgia border now near Chattanooga stalled due to heavy winds. Like their predecessors, these whooping cranes will spend the winter in Florida. It is hoped that they will migrate back to Wisconsin in the spring 2003 using the same route. Ultra light led migrations are expected to continue for the next three years.
WCEP is a consortium of private organizations, government agencies and private donors working to reintroduce a migratory flock of whooping cranes back into eastern North America. More than 60 percent of the project's estimated $1.8 million per year budget comes from private sources in the form of grants, donations and corporate sponsors.
WCEP founding members are the International Whooping Crane Recovery Team, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Operation Migration Canada, International Crane Foundation, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, 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 more information on the sixteen birds currently being led to Florida,
see the project’s web site at http://www.bringbackthecranes.org.
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center on the Whooping Crane
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