I saw my first whooping crane, Grus Americana, in 1973 from the deck of Captain Brownie Brown’s wooden, pink tour boat. He was a real character. At that time there were only a total of 70 whoopers in the world, 51 wild birds and 19 in captivity. The endangered species act was passed that year and I have been interested in studying these rare animals ever since.
According to Dr. George Lowery’s book Louisiana Birds, the last native Whooping Crane in Louisiana was captured in the marsh near White Lake March 11, 1950. There were thirty-eight total birds of this species in the whole world that year. Nationwide their numbers dropped to an all time low of twenty-three in 1953. Since then they have been on slow but steady climb up to more than 500 birds with 382 of those in the wild as of 2009. All because of successful conservation efforts of the USFW Service and many others.
Bob Love, Coastal and Non-game Resources Division Administrator, of LDWF is heading up the effort to restore a population of America’s tallest bird to its historic habitat in southwest Louisiana. He tells me it’s been a full time effort for a year and a half to get the paperwork and infrastructure set up for this release last week. Many of his cohorts have assisted, especially the staff of Rockefeller refuge. Rockefeller was the number one reason the alligator became one of the most successful comebacks of wildlife in America. Tom Hess has been on the staff there for years and has been very instrumental in helping the comeback of the brown pelican and bald eagle in Louisiana. Tom was there on Saturday to put radio collars on the juvenile whooping cranes. I have known Tom and Bob since the early 70’s when I took a few courses in LSU’s wildlife management grad school.
I watched the ten birds from a blind about 100 yards away; the biologist do not want the young birds to imprint on humans. They have been fed by puppet heads that look like adult cranes and are cared for by biologist wearing crane suits. All efforts are to give these birds a chance to make it in the wild and adapt to their new but historic home near White Lake.
Bob looks at this release as a gift to the residents of Southwest Louisiana and another reason to take care and restore our subsiding wetlands. I think and hope this could be a magic nugget that gets us over the hump to do that, save our wetlands, not only for the whooping crane, alligator, egrets and wood ducks, but also for the wonderful people of coastal Louisiana. If you want to help the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Foundation has a special fund for the whooping crane project. Private funds are needed. To donate please visit: www.wlf.louisiana.gov/lwff and be sure to note on your gift: The Whooping Crane Fund.