An organization instrumental in establishing the eastern migratory flock of whooping cranes has withdrawn from the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership and announced plans to disband. Between 2001 and 2015, Operation Migration pilots used ultralight aircraft to guide captive-hatched, imprinted whooping cranes—186 of them—along a migration route between Wisconsin and Florida.
The aircraft-guided migration ended in the fall of 2015, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the method was “too artificial.” “They suggested that cranes raised by our costumed handlers resulted in inattentive parents that did not adequately protect their offspring,” according to an Operation Migration press release. “We continued work for another three years based upon our belief that the goal of a self-sustaining eastern migratory population of whooping cranes was attainable. However, with new management directives authorized by the Whooping Crane Recovery Team and implemented by Region 3 of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we no longer believe this goal to be achievable.”
Operation Migration deserves credit not only for its role in establishing the eastern migratory flock of whooping cranes, but also for drawing public attention to the plight of this species, and to educating countless school children (and adults) about the birds and the heroic efforts to strengthen and build its global population. —Dawn Hewitt
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