The International Crane Foundation (ICF) is deeply concerned about the recent reports of Whooping Cranes being shot in Kentucky and Louisiana, adding to the frightening series of shootings of these highly endangered birds. In the past five years, at least 16 Whooping Cranes have been shot. These disturbing acts of vandalism have happened in all three Whooping Crane populations – from breeding grounds in Wisconsin, to wintering areas in Texas, and all along the cranes’ flyways. For the population re-introduced in the eastern U.S. migratory flyway, about 20% of all crane deaths have been from shootings – putting the future of this population at risk.
Court sentences to date have clearly been an insufficient deterrent to these shootings. In one case, a juvenile was charged in Indiana state court with a misdemeanor and a $1 fine. The actual cost of rearing and releasing one crane is estimated to be over $100,000. In a Texas case, prosecutors chose not to bring charges under the tougher Endangered Species Act, because a hunter who killed a Whooping Crane claimed to have mistaken it for a legally hunted Sandhill Crane. When the courts assign penalties that are woefully small compared with the value of Whooping Crane recovery efforts, they do not deter tragedies like this from happening in the future and they degrade the strength of the Endangered Species Act.
At least one court did recognize the significance of these crimes; in a South Dakota shooting case, the perpetrator was sentenced to an $85,000 fine (that will help fund Whooping Crane conservation work) and two years’ probation. This is a model that should be considered in all Whooping Crane shooting cases to maximize deterrence. Even stronger would be to add the loss of hunting privileges – reflecting that illegal shooters have no place in ethical hunting communities.
We – a united front of concerned citizens, federal and state governments, and nonprofit organizations – have brought Whooping Cranes back from the brink of extinction. But now that Whooping Cranes are back on our lands, it is up to us, the citizens of the United States, to keep them safe. They are a national treasure, part of our living legacy, and we should not tolerate having them destroyed by vandals in our communities.
ICF is working hard with partners on education and outreach efforts to create a next generation of Americans who are proud to have wild Whooping Cranes in their world. However, we also need to work with communities where Whooping Cranes live to spread the word that Whooping Cranes are a valued resource and to help young citizens understand that shooting them will not be tolerated.
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|To get involved, contact your regional Fish & Wildlife office and US Attorney and urge them to apply the maximum possible penalties for those found guilty of shooting a Whooping Crane, or other endangered species.|
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