Thursday, November 19, 2015

Raising Crane(s)

Whooping cranes learning their fall migration route from an ultralight aircraft
piloted by a human wearing a crane suit.
An episode of the Radiolab podcast that I listened to recently is titled "Raising Crane." It is about scientists who create a "childhood" for a flock of whooping cranes in order to save them from extinction.

It is one of those wildlife stories that sounds like a great project. But the report also raises some questions about what it takes to get a species back to being wild.

Whooping crane at Patokah River National Wildlife Refuge
in Indiana on its migration south. Steve Gifford/USFWS/flickrCC-BY-2.0.

Less than a hundred years ago, there were just 16 whooping cranes left, and only 4 breeding females. Now scientists are trying to teach these cranes how to survive in the wild. The caveat is that they have to do it without the cranes knowing they are interacting with humans.

That means chicks are raised by puppet-wielding researcher/mothers wearing white cloth suits. They will be led across the country by ultralight planes with crane-suited human pilots substituting for adult cranes.

And it works. There are now somewhere around 500 whooping cranes in the wild.

The podcast also examines a mysterious behavior that has crane researchers worried, and a theory on what might be causing it.

Operation Migration website and YouTube channel

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