Cranes Killed at Wildlife Refuge

Associated Press
Sunday, February 4, 2007

Eighteen endangered young whooping cranes that were led from Wisconsin to Florida last fall to create a second migratory flock of the birds were killed in Friday's violent storms, a spokesman said yesterday.

The cranes were being kept in an enclosure at the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge near Crystal River, Fla., said Joe Duff, co-founder of Operation Migration, the organization coordinating the project.

The thunderstorms and at least one tornado that hit central Florida caused widespread damage and killed at least 20 people.

For the past six years, whooping cranes hatched in captivity have been raised at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin by workers who wear crane-like costumes to keep the birds wary of humans.

Pilots using ultra-light aircraft teach new groups of young cranes the migration route to Florida. Then the birds migrate north in the spring and south in the fall on their own.

Duff described the loss as an "unavoidable disaster" for the project.

The existing migratory whooping crane flock in North America includes about 200 birds that travel between Canada and the Texas Gulf Coast. A non-migratory flock in Florida has about 60 birds.

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