Whooping Crane Deaths

Number of Whooping Crane shooting related deaths rise – public fears are not “overstated”

Recently, the Tennessee Wildlife Federation (TWF) sent out a call for comment on the proposed TN Sandhill Crane season quoting a seemingly low number of Whooping Crane (WHCR) shooting deaths (3) between 1961 and the present.  It also listed public concern over the potential impact on the WHCRs from a hunting season as being “overstated.”  To read entire TWF letter click here.

The low number of deaths quoted by Michael Butler (CEO of the TWF) was taken from the February 19, 2013 report by by the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) –the partnership responsible for the reintroduction program of the eastern population of WHCRs and neutral on the issue of hunting. (…”Since 1955, three whooping cranes in the Aransas-Wood Buffalo population (AWBP) that migrates from northern Canada to coastal Texas are known to have been killed by waterfowl hunters engaged in legal hunting activities.…”)  

What isn’t mentioned in the  Tennessee Wildlife Federation letter is the fact that many more WHCRs have been killed by unethical and illegal hunting activities in the last several years (to read news reports see links below). And, according to the official WCEP report, as Sandhill hunting seasons are considered and implemented (KY is currently the only eastern state with a season) along the eastern Sandhill/Whooping crane migration route it is not an unrealistic expectation to see a rise in the occurrence of accidental WHCR shooting deaths. Hopefully, through increased public outreach and hunter education across the country, Whooping Crane deaths can be minimized.

The following are excerpts from the February 2013 WCEP report:

“…Accidental or intentional shooting is a known cause of mortality in whooping cranes. The EMP whooping cranes follow a similar migration route as the eastern population of sandhill cranes to their wintering areas in Southeastern U.S. Also similar to sandhill cranes, some whooping cranes are increasingly wintering in other Southeastern and lower Midwestern states as far north as Indiana. A hunting season on eastern sandhill cranes or other sympatric species that can be mistaken for whooping cranes could result in accidental shooting of EMP birds during the course of legal hunting activities.…”

“…The primary known cause of all mortalities in EMP whooping cranes is predation and relatively few shooting deaths of any kind have been documented; however, the cause of death is not known for 85-90% of missing whooping cranes that are presumed to be dead because a carcass has never being located…mortalities caused by purposeful or accidental shootings are, presumably, one of the hardest causes to identify as the perpetrators have an incentive to cover up such incidents…”

“…the absence of a sandhill crane hunting season or other hunting season of another sympatric species that is morphologically similar to whooping cranes in the EMP range does not guarantee that shootings of whooping cranes will not occur. Nonetheless, the potential for accidental take of whooping cranes theoretically increases as hunting seasons on other similar and sympatric species expand geographically and temporally.…” 

To read the entire WCEP report click here Whooping Crane and Shooting Related Mortalities

Federal protection under the Endangered Species Act

Crane-recovery experts note that Whooping Cranes of the wild Aransas-Wood Buffalo population (migrating between coastal Texas and northern Canada) are more fully protected under the Endangered Species Act than the reintroduced and therefore “nonessential experimental population” birds in the eastern migratory population.

A result of this designation by the USFWS is that Endangered Species Act penalties do not apply if a Whooping Crane is shot accidentally in the course of an otherwise legal activity, such as hunting.  However, a shooter may still be prosecuted under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and state laws.

In an intentional shooting of a reintroduced crane, the protections of the Endangered Species Act would apply.

Dead Whooping Crane in Calhoun Co. GA, December 2010

Dead Whooping Crane in Calhoun Co. GA, December 2010

Media Reports of Whooping Cranes deaths

…”Records of Whooping Cranes known to have died from gunshot or other causes from colonial times to 1948 show that about 66% of the losses occurred during migration. Shooting represented a substantial drain on the population, particularly from 1870 to 1920. Large and conspicuous, Whooping Cranes were shot for both meat and sport. Laws enacted to protect the birds have led to a decline in human caused mortality, but shootings still occur. The most recent known cases involved an adult female being mistaken for a snow goose near Aransas NWR in 1989, an adult female shot by a vandal as she migrated northward through Texas in 1991, and two shot by a vandal in Florida in 1990.…” (Page 5, Whooping Crane publication, 2 June 1970)

“…Since 2007, there have been 11 confirmed shootings of whooping cranes in the United States, three of those have occurred in Indiana. In addition to the Knox County shooting in January of this year, there was also a whooping crane shot in Jackson County in December of 2011.…” (fromTristate Outdoor News article/ August 8, 2012 interview with U.S. Attorney General Joe Hogsett)

November 2000
The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that the agency is offering a reward for information related to the killing of two whooping cranes.

November 20, 2003
Migrating Whooping Crane killed during closed waterfowl season and closed Sandhill season

November 2004
“…Shootings, one of the major causes of the historic decline of whooping cranes along with habitat loss, now occur infrequently. The last known shooting of two whooping cranes occurred in Kansas in early November 2004. One died within a week, and the second later died from respiratory problems that developed from its injuries.…Charges filed against a party of sandhill crane (Grus canadensis) hunters involved in the shooting resulted in a guilty plea with fines of $3,000 per hunter, additional restitution paying the medical bills incurred caring for the injured cranes, community service, and loss of hunting privileges for two years.…”

“…Two whooping cranes were shot to death by hunters in Kansas in November 2004, mistaken for sandhill cranes, a game species.…”

November 2009
Whooping Crane #17-02 shot in Cayuga IN (Vemillion County)

December 2010
Juvenile Whooping Cranes, #20-10, #24-10 and #28-10 found shot and killed in Calhoun County, Georgia

January 2011
Whooping Crane #12-04 shot and killed in Cherokee County Alabama

February 2011
Juvenile Whooping Crane #22-10 found shot and killed less then quarter mile from #12-04 in Cherokee County Alabama.

December 2011
Whooping Crane #6-05 shot and killed in Jackson Co. IN

January 2012
Whooping Crane #27-08 shot and killed in Knox Co. IN
Male crane #27-08 was shot and killed in early January in Knox County, Indiana. In May 2012 it was announced that charges are pending against Jason R. McCarter, 21, of Wheatland, and John C. Burke, 23, of Monroe City, IL. According to a case filed with the prosecutor, ICO Joe Haywood received information in mid-January that a Whooping crane had been spotlighted at night an shot and killed with a high-powered rifle. An investigation that identified the suspects took place by multiple law enforcement agencies, wildlife biologists and priviate individuals…Jason McCarter filed an Agreement to Plead Guilty for violating the Migratory Bird Act by Taking or Killing of a Migratory Bird, thus avoiding a criminal trial. The plea agreement includes 3 years probation during which period he may not hunt, possess or use of a firearm or alcohol. In addition to “an unprecedented number” of community service hours to be served at the Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife area he also must pay a $5,000 fine to the International Crane Foundation.

January 12, 2013
Dallas duck hunter kills juvenile Whooping Crane in Aransas Co. TX
“A Dallas duck hunter in January shot and killed one of this year’s 34 juvenile whooping cranes during its first visit to Texas, thinking it was a sandhill crane, according to state authorities.…The endangered crane was shot by an avid freshwater duck hunter during his first coastal waterfowl hunt. Upon realizing his mistake, the hunter took the dead crane to a state game warden.…The Aransas County death is the fifth known Texas case involving the shooting of a whooper since 1968, though another crane death in Calhoun County remains under investigation. Previous Texas cases from 1989 and 1991 ended in fines totaling $21,000 and $23,100 respectively.

April 2013
Whooping Crane shot and killed near Miller, South Dakota
“…A 26-year-old Miller man must pay $85,000 in restitution after pleading guilty to illegally shooting an endangered whooping crane, U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson announced Wednesday.…”


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