By JANET McCONNAUGHEY, Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana and other donors are offering $11,000 in rewards for information about whoever shot and killed endangered two whooping cranes about a year apart.
There’s a $5,000 reward for information about whoever killed one in Jefferson Davis Parish in November, and another $6,000 for tips leading to arrest and conviction in a November 2018 killing.
A 1 1/2-year-old crane’s body was found Nov. 15 in a rice and crawfish field in the town of Elton in Jefferson Davis Parish, Adam Einck, spokesman for the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ enforcement division, said Friday. A necropsy determined that it had been shot and killed a day or two earlier. It had been released in December 2018.
Einck said there’s also still a $6,000 reward out for tips leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever shot a whooping crane between Crowley and Rayne in Acadia Parish in November 2018. That area is about 28 miles (46 kilometers) southwest of Elton.
State, federal and private groups have been working since 2011 to create a self-sustaining Louisiana flock of the 5-foot-tall (1.5-meter-tall) birds. A total of 158 cranes have been released in southwest Louisiana, and an estimated 75 — including three chicks hatched in the wild — are alive.
It isn’t easy being free. Another 295 captive-bred birds have been released since 2001 in the flock originally taught to migrate by having ultralight aircraft lead them from Wisconsin to Florida, U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist Bill Brooks of Jacksonville, Florida, said in an email Friday. That flock, called the Eastern migratory flock, currently is estimated at 86, including 12 wild-born birds.
Whooping cranes are North America’s tallest birds, with black-tipped wings that span nearly 7 feet (2.1 meters). Overhunting and habitat loss cut their numbers to 21 in the 1940s, about 15 of them in a flock that migrates between southeastern Texas and Calgary, Canada.
That flock — the only self-sustaining one — now numbers about 500. The 24th Whooping Crane Festival is taking place this weekend at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas.
There are another 160 whooping cranes in captivity.
A total of 43 whooping cranes have been shot in the United States and Canada since the U.S. government declared the species endangered in 1957, said Lizzie Condon, whooping crane outreach coordinator for the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin.
She said 12 have been shot in nine incidents in Louisiana, more than in any other state or territory. Texas is second, with eight cranes shot in seven incidents — including one in Beaumont, which killed two cranes from Louisiana’s flock. Five cranes have been shot in Indiana and three each in Alabama, Florida and Georgia, Condon said in an email.
The reward for information about the young crane’s death is made up of contributions from the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Foundation, Operation Game Thief, the Whooping Crane Conservation Association and the International Crane Foundation.