WEISS LAKE, AL (WSFA) - Many Alabamians enjoy hunting, but someone is violating federal protection laws and is shooting to death a very rare species of bird called the whooping crane. There are only an estimated 600 of the birds remaining. Five of the birds have now been shot in the last several months; two in Alabama, three in Georgia.
The birds are best known for inspiring the movie "Fly away home" after an organization started using an ultralight aircraft to guide them to Florida.
Federal investigators said Friday they've discovered the remains of a second whooping crane at Weiss Lake on the Alabama-Georgia border.
A reward of more than $23,000 is being offered, a combined total contributed by 18 non-governmental organizations, federal agencies, and private individuals for additional information on the deaths of the two whooping cranes leading to successful prosecution of the perpetrator(s).
The second crane, identified as #22-10, a crane released last year in Wisconsin in the company of other older cranes, was found less than a quarter-mile from whooping crane #12-04.
Investigators believe #12-04 was shot sometime before January 28, and consider the deaths linked. Officials say laboratory results are still pending.
"We hope this reward may help generate leads from anyone who may know about these deaths," said Jim Gale, Special Agent in Charge of Law Enforcement in the Service's Southeast Region. "We are working hard to bring the offender or offenders to justice and greatly appreciate any assistance the public can offer."
To provide information, call Special Agent John Rawls at 334-285-9600, or e-mail him at email@example.com.
Whooping crane #22-10
Whooping crane #22-10 left Necedah National Wildlife Refuge on the fall migration with Direct Autumn Release juveniles #25-10 and #27-10 on November 20, 2010. At some point while flying, they met up with adult pair #13-03 and #18-03 (who trackers had seen beginning the migration alone earlier in the day). They flew slightly southwest and landed along the Mississippi River where they were found the next morning in Jackson County, Iowa, at the Green Island Wildlife Management Area. The five Whooping Cranes remained there until continuing migration on November 23.
The juveniles followed the adult pair to Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area in Greene County, Indiana, and they remained here until the three juveniles split off from the adults and continued traveling south on December 13 to Jackson County, Tennessee. They quickly moved on from that location and reached Weiss Lake, Cherokee County, Alabama, by the night of December 15. They were found with adult whooping cranes #11-02, #30-08, #37-09 and fellow Direct Autumn Release juvenile #19-10 on the December 18.
The seven birds remained at Weiss Lake and were shortly joined by another adult pair, #12-04 and #27-05, who had moved south from the Hiwassee Refuge in Tennessee.
Whooping crane #22-10 went missing around the same time that #12-04 was killed. The remaining birds all left the area.
Whooping crane #27-05 returned to the Hiwassee Refuge by February 4, after the death of her mate #12-04, while the other six moved into north central Alabama by February 4.
The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership uses two techniques to establish the Eastern Migratory Population. One method trains cranes to follow costumed pilots flying ultralight aircraft from Wisconsin to Florida. The other releases young birds directly into wild populations of whooping cranes and sandhill cranes – called Direct Autumn Release.
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. There are about 100 cranes in the Eastern Migratory Population.
In addition to the Endangered Species Act, whooping cranes are protected by state laws and the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
For more information about the reintroduction effort, visit http://www.bringbackthecranes.org.
INFORMATION SOURCE: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
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