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Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens

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Whooping Crane Conservation

Whooping Cranes and Chick
Whooping Cranes and Chick

The International Whooping Crane Recovery Team is the governing body charged with responsibility of overseeing the recovery for this species. The Recovery Team’s efforts to establish a non-migratory Whooping crane flock began in Florida in 1993, using cranes hatched in captivity. In September 1999, after searching for the best possible location to establish a second migratory flock in Eastern North America, the Team recommended that the new flock be taught a migration route with central Wisconsin as the northern end and the west coast of Florida as the new wintering location. The Team then approved Operation Migration’s ultralight-led migration technique as the main reintroduction method.

Whooping Crane
Whooping Crane
Photo by Tiffany Smith

Founded in 1994, Operation Migration is a non-profit charitable organization. The co-founders,  Bill Lishman and Joe Duff, were both artists (sculptor and photographer) who have since become crane conservationists. That was five years after Bill became the first human to fly with birds, and one year after they used ultralight aircraft to lead a small flock of Canada geese from Ontario, Canada to Virginia, USA. Like many birds, Whooping cranes learn their migration route by following their parents. To perfect techniques, and ensure that once released, birds conditioned to follow ultralights would remain wild, several migration studies were conducted with non-endangered Sandhill cranes.

In the first seven years of the project, Operation Migration has led 108 Whooping cranes south, teaching them a migration route between Wisconsin and Florida. As of November 2008 the total number of birds in the reintroduced Eastern Migratory Population is 74. That is five times the number that existed in the wild in the early 1940s. Operation Migration is one of the founding partners of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP), the coalition of private and government agencies behind the project to safeguard the endangered Whooping crane from extinction.

Volunteers Mend Fences
Volunteers Mend Fences

Each year, on their way to their final destination of Chassahowitzka NWR, Florida, the ultralight and it’s new flock of young Whooping cranes stop at the Halpata-Tastnaki Preserve in Dunnellon, Florida. Annually, the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens staff has been active in repairing and preparing the temporary holding area at the Preserve for the Whooping cranes’ one to four week layover.

Additionally, in 2007, a pair of Whooping cranes that were being conditioned to follow the ultralights was found to have physical impairments that would compromise their potential to reproduce and survive. This male and female were placed with the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens as ambassadors for their species.  Someday, they may breed, and contribute additional numbers to this endangered species.

If you would like more information about the Whooping crane, Operation Migration, and the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership check the following web sites among others http://www.whoopingcrane.com, http://whoopers.usgs.gov, http://operationmigration.org, and http://www.bringbackthecranes.org.

Volunteer Working on Fence
Volunteer Working on Fence

Volunteer Lay Fence
Volunteer Lay Fence

Erected Fence
Erected Fence