Cranes will wait to head south

January 06, 1993|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff Writer

The call of the wild will have to wait for six endangere whooping cranes, born and raised in captivity at Laurel's Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.

The cranes were to be part of the first wild flock of "whoopers" in Florida since 1928. But a medical examination of the 6-month-old birds was "inconclusive," and the birds will remain in Maryland until additional tests can be done, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said.

The rest of the new flock -- six cranes bred and raised by the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wis. -- are to be released today within the 260,000-acre Kissimmee Prairie, 75 miles northwest of Vero Beach, Fla., said Georgia Parham, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife public affairs specialist.

"This is a historic moment because there haven't been any whoopers down there since the 1920s," Ms. Parham said, noting that the last documented whooping crane in Florida was shot near St. Augustine in 1928. If the birds raised at Patuxent pass additional medical tests, they could be shipped to Florida within four to six weeks, Ms. Parham said. Although earlier test results were unsatisfactory, she said, the birds are not sick. Patuxent officials are merely being cautious, she said.

"We just don't want to run the risk of infecting the birds from Baraboo or any of the native Florida birds," she said. "This won't throw a monkey wrench into the project. It just means we'll have two releases."

The whooping crane, the tallest bird in North America at 5 feet, was deemed to be an endangered species in 1967. The last known flock in Florida was reported in 1900 and included only 14 birds.

The last wild flock in North America has rebounded from a low of 16 birds in 1942 to about 155. That flock migrates between the Texas Gulf Coast and Canada's Northwest Territories.

Florida officials will monitor closely the new flock of whoopers. If the flock succeeds, 20 additional birds could be released in 1994 and another 20 annually thereafter.

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