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Shooting suspected in death of Whooping Crane in Texas; reward offered

A Whooping Crane at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. Photo by Steve Hillebrand/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
A Whooping Crane at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. Photo by Steve Hillebrand/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Less than two weeks after we learned about the shooting death of a Whooping Crane in Louisiana in November 2014, we’ve received word that a crane may have been shot in Texas in December as well.

According to the International Crane Foundation, the bird was found dead on January 4 near a duck blind on Aransas Bay, not far from Sand Lake, on the central Texas coast.

A reward of up to $27,500 is being offered for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of anyone responsible for the Texas bird’s death. The groups contributing to the reward fund are ICF, Friends of the Wild Whoopers, Friends of Aransas and Matagorda Island National Wildlife Refuges, Whooping Crane Conservation Association, Audubon Texas, Aransas Bird and Nature Club, San Antonio Bay Foundation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Necropsy results show that the crane may have been handled after it died, according to a Fish and Wildlife Service news release (PDF). The agency also said its lab couldn’t determine the exact cause of death, but a statement from ICF says it was “likely due to a shooting.”

Anyone with information about the crane’s death should call the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Houston Office of Law Enforcement at (281) 876-1520, or Operation Game Thief at (800) 792-GAME (4263). Callers may remain anonymous.

The bird was one of the estimated 304 Whoopers that winter in Texas and breed in Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park. The total population of the species, including captive birds and reintroduced cranes in the eastern states and Louisiana, is about 600. Whooping Cranes are protected under the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Penalties for harming or killing a crane can range up to a $100,000 fine and/or one year in federal prison.

“The killing of a Whooping Crane in Texas is unforgivable,” said Elizabeth Smith, director of ICF’s Texas Program. “As this population struggles to survive in the face of climate change, coastal development, fresh-water shortages, and other threats, we must protect these iconic birds from senseless and preventable acts of vandalism.”

Sadly, Whooping Crane shootings are all too common. Six birds in the non-migratory Louisiana population have been shot in recent years. The latest occurred in November. A $10,000 reward is offered in the case. At least 15 other cranes are known to have been shot. — Matt Mendenhall, Managing Editor

Originally Published

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