New Orleans,
16:14 PM

Freeport McMoran Audubon Species Survival Center and Dallas Zoo Team Up to Save Whooping Cranes

On Oct 17, 2018, animal staff from Freeport-McMoran Audubon Species Survival Center (FMASCC) and Dallas Zoo teamed up with national conservation partners and federal agencies – Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, San Diego Zoo Global, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), United States Geological Survey (USGS), United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the United States Coast Guard - to participate in a transfer of whooping cranes from the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Maryland, to the Audubon Species Survival Center in New Orleans, Louisiana.

This collective partnering is an effort to protect this endangered species from extinction. More than 75 cranes were moved from Patuxent to various conservation partners across the United States and Canada. The transfer took place due to the closure of Patuxent’s long-time Crane Conservation Program as funding for this program is coming to an end.

The birds made their journey from Maryland to New Orleans aboard a Hercules C130 United States Coast Guard plane. Audubon, Dallas Zoo and USGS staff accompanied the birds on the four hour flight, and a team of Audubon staff met the plane at the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Belle Chasse upon landing.

While in New Orleans, FMASCC and Dallas Zoo animal staff are working together to care for over 30 of the birds from Patuxent. Initially FMASSC received 33 birds; three were transferred to other AZA partner facilities upon arrival in New Orleans. Dallas Zoo team members are assisting FMASCC animal staff to care for the remaining 30 birds until construction is completed on Dallas Zoo’s new offsite whooping crane facility. Located just a few miles from the Zoo, the new Whooping Crane Center of Texas will be focused on breeding cranes for release into the wild and to conduct research to continue to improve wild reintroduction efforts.

“I’ve never been a part of such a massive animal transport that involved so many partners; not just AZA Zoos, but multiple federal agencies,'' said Michelle Hatwood, General Curator Freeport McMoran Audubon Species Survival Center. "Everyone was happy to see all these birds safely arrive in New Orleans. It was especially fun to hear the pilots and ground crews express their excitement to help such a rare species of native birds.”

Whooping cranes are the tallest North American bird, as well as one of North America’s most endangered native birds. It is one of only 2 crane species found in North America. Starting at the end of the 1800’s and early 1900’s, habitat loss and hunting had a drastic effect on reducing the whooping crane population, reaching a low of 14 animals in 1941. Conservationists began working with local, federal and international governments to protect the remaining flock and encourage breeding. Those efforts slowly paid off and currently more than 600 birds exist worldwide.

The whooping cranes transferred from Patuxent will be housed at FMASSC as part of the breeding and release program that Audubon has been part of since 2000. The hope is to increase the number of birds breeding and produce chicks that can be released into the wild, thus bolstering the crane population in Louisiana and North America. Last year FMASCC, in partnership with Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries, successfully released 12 chicks into Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge.

While at FMASCC, the cranes are housed in an area known as the "Crane Complex,'' roughly eight acres of housing with individual spaces that each hold one or two birds; whooping cranes live in monogamous pairs. FMASCC has been focusing on crane conservation for nearly 18 years and the addition of these 30 birds will bring the total number of whooping cranes at FMASSC to 42. With the continued commitment to strong conservation efforts such as this transport, there is hope to continue to reverse the decline in the whooping crane population.

”We are proud to have been a part of the historic transport of these iconic birds, and we look forward to welcoming our 10 pairs to our new whooping crane center once construction is completed,” said Sprina Liu, Dallas Zoo’s Bird Curator. “Having a dedicated partner like Audubon just a few hours away allows our team to stay involved now that the cranes are here, and we can get a head start on observing our pairs before they arrive in Dallas. We’re excited to focus our expertise on ensuring the survival of this species.”

Audubon Nature Institute

Audubon Nature Institute operates a family of museums, parks and research facilities dedicated to celebrating the wonders of nature. Through innovative live animal exhibits, education programs, and scientific discovery, Audubon makes a meaningful contribution to preserving wildlife for the future. Audubon Nature Institute flagships include Audubon Park, Audubon Zoo, Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, Entergy Giant Screen Theater, Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, Audubon Louisiana Nature Center, Freeport-McMoRan Audubon Species Survival Center, Woldenberg Riverfront Park and Audubon Wilderness Park. Ron Forman is President and CEO of Audubon Nature Institute.