Two of North America’s endangered whooping cranes were shot and killed by hunters in Louisiana last month, reducing the numbers of the meager population currently being nurtured back to stability.
The two adolescents killed were members of the flock derived from eggs taken painstakingly from the wild flock that nests in Wood Buffalo National Park, transplanted to the American midwest and raised as chicks in sand hill crane flocks in the wild.
Known as “Chick L10” and “Chick L8,” they were part of a reintroduction project in the southern states where chicks are put back in the wild on what was traditionally whooping crane territory.
According to a statement from the lead scientist on the project, the deaths are a huge loss to the scientific community working to rehabilitate the crane population.
“We find these killings personally and scientifically heartbreaking and ethically unacceptable,” said Dr. John B. French, Jr., leader of the whooping crane program at the US Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Centre in Laurel, Maryland where the two chicks were raised before being released in Louisiana.
“These cranes — including each of those senselessly killed by people — represent an investment of hope for whooping cranes to wing their way back to a more certain future,” he said. “And with only about 430 whooping cranes now in the wild, each bird counts.”
Scientists at Patuxent have been raising whooping crane chicks for 45 years, since the species reached an all-time low of 16 birds in the late 1930s and were in serious danger of extinction.
Of the 10 cranes raised and released in Louisiana last year, only five have survived, due to predation, lung infection and, now, hunting.
French condemned the two alleged shooters, who have since been identified, for what he said was “entirely preventable.”
“Each such death is a robbery of the investment made by the American public and negates countless hours of careful work by scientists, aviculturists, volunteers and others toward the conservation of this magnificent bird,” he said.
The State of Louisiana, too, called the shootings “a profound setback” for the reintroduction program.
French noted the importance of human cooperation with conservation efforts.
“The death of two birds will not destroy the natural world, but the attitude that has led to the intentional killing of endangered species is a clear indication of the extent of education needed to develop a more generally accepted conservation ethic,” he said. “Ultimately, the understanding that human welfare is intimately and directly tied to conservation of intact natural ecosystems is crucial.”