Recovery and Current Status
Many people had lost hope that whooping cranes could persist in the wild. However, a group of scientists and conservationists made it their mission to save the species. The protection provided by the Endangered Species Act and captive breeding efforts have enabled whooping crane populations to slowly increase from near extinction.
The recovery of the whooping crane has become a conservation success story, but more work is necessary to ensure this species will continue long into the future. The primary threats to whooping cranes relate to the species’ low abundance and limited distribution. Both factors make the species particularly susceptible to natural catastrophes such as drought or hurricanes and human-caused catastrophes such as oil and chemical spills. Poaching is another major threat. While whooping cranes are no longer in imminent danger of extinction, the possibility of extinction in the wild remains high because of the small size of the single, wild, naturally occurring migratory flock. Multiple efforts are underway to create several separate populations through reintroduction projects like the one in Louisiana.
The species is still considered endangered, but as of 2019, there were approximately 700 whooping cranes in three separate wild populations and about 150 individuals in captivity in North America. The naturally occurring wild flock was estimated at 504 individuals during the 2019 annual winter survey conducted along the Texas Gulf Coast and continues to slowly increase, giving hope for the future of the species.