Southwest Louisiana’s colony of endangered whooping cranes grew to 19 Tuesday, when wildlife officials released 16 young birds into the White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area in Gueydan to join the three adult cranes placed there in March. The releases are part of a 15-year experimental program to establish a nonmigratory population of whooping cranes in Louisiana.
Similar programs to build whooping crane populations in the wild are under way in two other locations, and captive-breeding projects are being conducted at a dozen locations across the U.S. and Canada. The only self-sustaining natural wild population of whooping cranes nests in Canada, according to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) website. It also warns, “It is that all or most of the populations of these endangered birds could be wiped out from a single event such as a hurricane, disease outbreak, toxic spill, or prolonged drought. This makes the species vulnerable to extinction.”
Louisiana’s White Lake area was chosen because it has been documented historically as a place where whooping cranes raised their young. Louisiana also had nonmigratory whooping crane populations in the past, as well as flocks that wintered here.
The cranes in Louisiana are being monitored by the LDWF, and came from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Md. The U.S.Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), USGS, and Louisiana Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit also are involved in the experimental project, which is funded by federal grants, donations and LDWF funds dedicated to species restoration.