A 7-year-old whooping crane known to be the only successful breeding female from the eastern migratory population was recently shot and killed in western Indiana, near the town of Cayuga in central Vermillion County.

The crane, along with her mate, was one of the only two adults in the eastern population of cranes to raise a chick and lead it to wintering grounds in Florida. This crane, known as 17-02, and her mate, 11-02, hatched two chicks in summer 2006 and one in summer 2009 at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin. Only one of the 2006 birds survived.

Eva Szyszkoski is the tracking field manager for the International Crane Foundation. Last November, Szyszkoski observed the two cranes at a marsh in Indiana during their southbound migration. On Dec. 1, 17-02 was observed missing. A ground tracker found the bird dead not far from a rural county road.

The future is grim for the remaining whooping cranes. As Szyszkoski writes, “Hopefully #11-02 will be able to find a new mate, but since we are still low on the female-to-male ratio, I don't know how soon that may be.”

Officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the International Crane Foundation have announced a minimum reward of $2,500 to the person or people who provide information leading to a conviction.

Anyone with information should call the Indiana Department of Natural Resources 24-hour hotline at (800) 847-4367 or the FWS at (317) 346-7016.