Injured whooping crane dies at wildlife center

Sick dolphin recovering at National Aquarium

December 11, 2004|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

There was good news and bad news yesterday involving some of Maryland's most closely watched exotic animals.

The bad news was the death of a rare, injured whooping crane brought last month for treatment to the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.

The good news is that Bob, a 26-year-old bottlenose dolphin brought to Baltimore last year on loan from Disney's Living Seas exhibit in Orlando, continues to improve after falling critically ill at the National Aquarium.

The male crane was shot by hunters in Kansas on Nov. 6 as it was traveling with a flock of about 200 birds that migrate each year between Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada and wintering grounds 2,700 miles away on the Texas Gulf Coast.

It was found with another wounded whooper shot by hunters near the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in south-central Kansas.

The other bird, with a leg broken by shotgun pellets, died Nov. 10. The second crane was treated at Kansas State University in Manhattan and then flown to Patuxent on Nov. 18 for rehabilitation.

It had 11 pellets in its body, a broken wing and respiratory problems, according John B. French, head of a program at Patuxent that breeds and raises the cranes for return to the wild.

Hunters in Kansas have admitted to firing at the birds, saying they mistook them for smaller sandhill cranes, which can be hunted legally. Killing an endangered bird carries a federal sentence of up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

Hunters have killed as many as five whooping cranes in the past 15 years, with convictions typically bringing fines of $25,000.

The whooping crane population dropped to fewer than 20 in the 1940s as they became victims of hunters and habitat loss. The species was restored through captive breeding programs pioneered at the Patuxent center. Today, about two-thirds of the world's 440 whooping cranes live in the wild.

Adult whooping cranes have 8-foot wingspans and stand 5 feet tall. They are the tallest birds in North America and the rarest cranes in the world.

French said the crane at Patuxent was found dead Thursday. It will be sent to a federal lab in Ashland, Ore., for a necropsy.

"It's a terrible loss," he said.

At the National Aquarium, where Bob the dolphin began to show signs of illness and stopped eating in September, blood tests revealed bacterial and fungal infections.

Bob is being given antibiotics, which are pumped into his lungs through his blowhole with a nebulizer made from a water cooler bottle and a toilet plunger.

But he continues to eat well and is no longer on a 24-hour watch, said Molly Foyle, an aquarium spokeswoman. He has improved enough that he is socializing with Raven, a 3-year- old male moved into Bob's tank Thursday to keep him company.

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