LEEC eNews Bulletin: Louisiana Welcomes Whooping Crane Hatchling

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) scored a huge victory in its effort to reintroduce endangered whooping cranes to their historic range in south Louisiana when the first chick in 75 years hatched in Jefferson Davis Parish on April 11.
LDWF Secretary Charlie Melancon congratulated his staff on achieving this milestone after more than five years of hard work, saying, “The ultimate goal is to establish a self-sustaining whooping crane population in Louisiana so that this beautiful bird can thrive for generations to come. The first chick hatched here is a step in that direction.’’
The last documented hatch in Louisiana occurred in 1939 and the last living Louisiana native whooping crane, a lone adult male called “Mac,” was transported to a Texas refuge in the spring of 1950. 
With the exception of the new hatchling, all whooping cranes in Louisiana today are individuals released into the wild by LDWF staff at the White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area in Vermilion Parish. The reintroduction project, begun in 2011, is a partnership among LDWF, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the Louisiana Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. 
LDWF staff receive, rear and release yearly cohorts of 10 to 15 juvenile birds hatched at a USGS facility in Maryland, then monitor their progress as they move on occupy Louisiana’s wetlands. To date, the reintroduced population numbers 43 whooping cranes. 
“This is something we’ve been looking forward to and anticipating since the reintroduction began in 2011,’’ said LDWF biologist Sara Zimorski, who leads the Louisiana whooping crane project. “One of the major steps in restoring the species is successful reproduction. We’ve had several pairs nesting the last couple of years but until now no favorable outcomes. It’s an exciting time for us and all of our partners who have worked so hard alongside us.”
Whooping cranes were historically present in Louisiana wetlands in great abundance as late as the 1890s, but over-hunting and repurposing of native habitat led to a precipitous decline in population. By the middle of the 20th century they had disappeared completely from our landscape. 
Humans remain the greatest threat to whooping cranes today. As recently as January of this year, two birds released in Louisiana were shot in east Texas. A number of others have been proven or suspected to be shot since the reintroduction project began. Relatively few individuals have succumbed to natural causes, including predation and disease.
Anyone who encounters a whooping crane in the wild is advised to observe the bird from a distance and encouraged to report the sighting to LDWF (http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/webform/whooping-crane-reporting-form).