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The Audubon Nature Institute experiences a baby boom of endangered crane chicks

Whooping crane conservation efforts recover after COVID-19 “severely impacted” program
Published: Jul. 14, 2021 at 5:26 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Like so many other aspects of life, the COVID-19 outbreak took a toll on animal conservation efforts.

At the Audubon Nature Institute, the pandemic severely impacted a program to rescue the highly endangered whooping crane.

However, in 2021, Audubon has something of a crane baby boom on its hands at its Species Survival Center on the west bank in the English Turn area of Algiers.

This year, curators and keepers are raising seven chicks.

“It’s very exciting,” said Richard Dunn, assistant curator at the Survival Center. “It’s a lot of work to produce one chick, let alone seven.”

The species declined to around 20 birds in the 1940s, according to the Cornell Lab, a leading science and organization working on the conservation of birds.

In Louisiana, the cranes went extinct.

Through captive breeding, wetland management, and other programs, Cornell estimates their number has risen to about 600 today.

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries estimates the state’s wild population at 78 birds after biologists reintroduced them a decade ago.

One of the seven eggs hatched weeks ago resulted from artificial insemination at Audubon. Six eggs came from Wisconsin, one from the International Crane Foundation, and five from nests that adult cranes typically abandon before an invasion of flies each spring.

In Southwestern Louisiana, Dunn said, “they’ve had some hatches out in the wild too. So, that’s been great.”

One “stepfather” is raising a chick at the Species Survival Center, while the others will be reared by staff members dressed in bird costumes to prevent the chicks from imprinting on humans.

“We are thrilled to have bounced back in the wake of the pandemic,” Dunn said.

Last year, in the early days of the pandemic, conservation efforts slowed considerably.

There were even concerns about whether the birds would be infected.

“Once we learned that they were not susceptible, we did have concerns about keepers and staff working very close together,” said Michelle Hatwood, General Curator.

Over the next six months, the birds will take their first flights at Audubon before they are transported to the White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area in Southwestern Louisiana for release into the wild.

“The whole effort revolves around sending these birds back to the wild and it’s something we’ve very excited about doing every year,” Hatwood said.

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