Whooping Cranes (Grus americana) in the wild somewhere in Indiana 2015 – my photo
My goal of choosing to be happier this year is a noble one, and because it’s a goal, it’s a work in progress, thankfully, because this morning I want to reach through space and choke someone. If you are a birder, or someone that cares about nature, odds are you know about the Whooping Crane. If they grabbed your attention, odds are you have delved deeper into their story, and you know that humans are the cause of their near extinction. Overharvesting and habitat loss led to the decline of the species in the early 20th century, to where there were only 20 left in the world.
Dedicated individuals and organizations have spend many countless hours and dollars on working to save these animals, restore their habitat, and protect them from extinction. At this point, between captivity and wild populations, there are more than 500 Whoopers in the world. I am incredibly fortunate, and I have been able to see most of the birds in the Mississippi Flyway at some point, and even some of the birds held in captivity for breeding and reintroduction purposes. They are a stunning sight to see. Over five feet tall with gleaming white plumage and a bugle-like call that echoes for miles; there is no other bird on the North American continent that looks like a Whooper, not even the Sandhill Crane (Antigone canadensis) which is a full foot shorter, is an all-over gray/brown, and never shows black in the wingtips. These two species tend to hang out together during migration, and every once in a rare while mate and produce offspring. Seeing them side by side heightens the obvious differences.
The reason behind this post today? Indiana Department of Natural Resources (INDNR) announced this morning that Female Whooping Crane #4-11 was found shot to death in southwestern Indiana. This is a huge loss for many reasons.
- She was a first-time mom last summer, we have now lost her genes, and her future reproductive ability.
- This loss is indicative of a larger problem with the public, and often when the perpetrator(s) are caught and charged, they get away with a slap on the wrist, like this 2009 case where the shooter was fined just $1.
- It takes $100,000 or more to take a Whooping Crane from egg to release, and with 20 birds shot and killed in the past few years, that is not a small chunk of change, especially as it is mostly non-profits doing the work.
- According to Newsweek, one in five birds in the Eastern population is lost through human shootings.
I started this blog post a week ago, and I had to take time off from writing it, because it was too much. Not this incident, specifically, but compounded with so many other things going on in my life, in the news, and this was a bridge too far.
I have many more thoughts on this bird, the species as a whole, ecology, and what in the hell we are doing to our planet, but I want to get this up, and maybe post another round of ramblings.