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ENVIRONMENT REPORT - May 17, 2002: Whooping Crane Recovery Project - 2002-05-16

This is the VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT.

Scientists are trying to create the first migrating group of whooping cranes in the eastern United States in more than one-hundred years. Migrating birds fly long distances to different areas of the country when the seasons change. For example, they fly from cold areas to warm areas to spend the winter.

The migration project is designed to increase the number of whooping cranes. These large, beautiful birds are in danger of disappearing.

Cranes are one of the most threatened families of birds in the world. Whooping cranes are the rarest of all cranes. There are fewer than three-hundred-fifty birds left in the world.

Whooping cranes do not produce many baby birds. That makes it difficult to replace birds killed by hunting, natural events, animals, accidents and disease. Scientists hope the migration effort will lead to increased reproduction among whooping cranes.

In October, researchers trained eight young whooping cranes to fly behind small airplanes. The planes led the endangered birds on their first migration. They flew from the middle western state of Wisconsin to a protected area in the southeastern state of Florida for the winter.

The cranes and planes arrived in Florida in December, following a fifty-day flight. They flew across seven states. One crane died during the trip. Two others were killed by animals in Florida.

The five remaining whooping cranes returned to the Necedah (neh-SEE-dah) National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin on their own last month. The return north was the cranes’ first unassisted migration. They were guided only by their natural abilities.

Scientists from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the International Crane Foundation have been studying the birds since they began their northern migration. They say their flight back to Wisconsin was quicker than anyone had expected. It took ten days and covered almost two-thousand kilometers.

Scientists had known that existing wild whooping cranes were able to fly great distances during migration. But they did not know if they could teach young whooping cranes to migrate.

The scientists will observe these whooping cranes during the summer and as they migrate back south in the fall. Scientists hope the effort will teach them more about how to save the endangered birds.

This VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT was written by Cynthia Kirk.