Wildlife scientists at the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, Ore., have concluded through preliminary testing the cranes found dead near Albany, Georgia, on Dec. 30, 2010, sustained injuries consistent with gunshot wounds.

The cranes were shot sometime before Dec. 30, 2010. They were discovered and reported by hunters. This was the cranes' first migration. They were banded and equipped with transmitters and were not part of the ultralight aircraft-led migration effort. Their identities were confirmed by the recovery of their bands. The three cranes — 20-10, 24-10 and 28-10 — were part of a group of five 2010 Direct Autumn Release (DAR) cranes. According to Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership trackers, they had last been tracked in Hamilton County, Tennessee, where they roosted on Dec. 10, 2010, with cranes 6-05, 6-09 and 38-09.

The cranes are part of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership effort to reintroduce whooping cranes into the eastern United States. There are about 570 whooping cranes left in the world, 400 in the wild. About 100 cranes are in the eastern migratory population.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agents are leading a joint investigation with Georgia Department of Natural Resources conservation rangers.  

Numerous organizations are contributing funds for the reward. They include: the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Humane Society of the United States along with the Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust, the Georgia Ornithological Society, the International Crane Foundation, Operation Migration, the St. Marks Refuge Association, along with the St. Marks Photo Club, and the Georgia Conservancy. The reward of up to $12,500 will be provided to the person or people who provide information leading to an arrest and successful prosecution of the perpetrator.

In addition to the Endangered Species Act, whooping cranes are protected by state laws and the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Any information concerning the deaths of these cranes should be provided to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Terry Hasting at (404)763-7959 and/or the Georgia Department of Natural Resources 24-hour TIP Hotline at 1-800-241-4113.

For more information about the reintroduction effort, visit the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership website.

The crane migration

Of the 10 whooping cranes led south by ultralights, five have already arrived at their wintering location at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in Florida, and five are still on the migration in north Florida, two stopovers away from their final destination, Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge. 

Biologists from the International Crane Foundation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reared 11 other whooping cranes at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge released in the company of older cranes from whom the young birds learn the migration route. They were released on Oct. 25. One was killed on Oct. 30, by a predator at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. This is the sixth year the partnership has used this Direct Autumn Release method. These cranes generally follow other older whooping cranes, and sometime sandhill cranes, during the fall migration to find suitable wintering habitat. 

The ultralight-led and Direct Autumn Release chicks are this year joining two wild-hatched chicks in the 2010 cohort.

Tom MacKenzie is a public affairs specialist for the Southeastern region of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Endangered whooping cranes shot near Albany
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offers $12,500 reward for information on shooting.