Constantin Sentenced for Whooping Crane Crime in Louisiana

Whooping Cranes L3-15 and L5-15, center, with L2 and L6 from their 2015 cohort in Acadia Parish, Louisiana.

Media contact, Lizzie Condon, Whooping Crane Outreach Coordinator

A Rayne, Louisiana, resident was sentenced July 30, 2020, for a Whooping Crane crime he committed four years ago.

Kaenon Constantin was sentenced at the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana in Lafayette by Magistrate Judge Patrick J. Hanna.

Constantin received five years’ unsupervised probation. During this time, he must complete 360 hours of community service with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF). Constantin’s hunting privileges were revoked until he can complete his community service. He also was fined $10,000 and ordered to pay $75,000 in restitution to LDWF.

Constantin pled not guilty on Jan. 21 to a misdemeanor violation of the Lacey Act for transporting an endangered species as defined under the Endangered Species Act and agreed to a trial before a magistrate judge. In June, Constantin agreed to change his plea to guilty at the hearing.

L3-15’s body was recovered by authorities after the shooting.

He and a juvenile accomplice shot two Whooping Cranes in May 2016 in Acadia Parish, Louisiana. Upon discovering color bands and transmitters on the one individual whose carcass they were able to retrieve, Whooping Crane L5-15, Constantin and his accomplice used a kitchen knife to separate the legs from the bird’s body. They threw the transmitter in a crawfish pond in an attempt to hide the evidence of their crime, in violation of the Lacey Act, a federal law that bans trafficking in illegal wildlife.

During sentencing, Judge Hanna said, “I think these birds are basically priceless,” but asked that Constantin pay for one of the two birds he shot. Judge Hanna repeatedly said he was upset at the loss of the birds, and the fact that Constantin attempted to cover up the shooting and involved his juvenile nephew in his crime made the situation much worse. The judge also expressed disbelief that anyone could shoot a Whooping Crane without knowing that it was something they weren’t supposed to shoot. Judge Hanna said he would have given Constantin jail time under normal circumstances, but that prisons in Louisiana are already overcrowded and dangerous due to the pandemic.

Commenting on the verdict, International Crane Foundation North America Program Director Dr. Liz Smith said, “The International Crane Foundation applauds Magistrate Judge Hanna and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District Court of Louisiana today for their decision to administer a rigorous sentence in the case of U.S. v. Constantin. This case sets a good precedent moving forward in Louisiana. Whooping Cranes are a valuable part of Louisiana’s cultural and natural heritage, and people who choose to shoot them will face the consequences.”

The two individuals shot by Mr. Constantin, L3-15 and L5-15, were both hatched in captivity in the spring of 2015 at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland. On Dec. 3, 2015, they were both brought to White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area in Gueydan, Louisiana, where they were cared for by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries staff until they could be released. They dispersed and had been spending a little more than a month in the Rayne area at the time of the shooting.

L3-15 on the day he was released in Louisiana – December 29, 2015. The young crane was shot less than six months later.

They only spent five months in the wilds of Louisiana before they were shot by Constantin and his juvenile accomplice. These two young Whooping Cranes never had the chance to reproduce and contribute to the nascent reintroduced population in Louisiana, which numbered just 41 individuals at the time of this shooting. Whooping Cranes typically live 20-30 years in the wild, do not begin producing chicks until four or five years of age, and successfully raise young for the first time at 7-8 years old. They typically lay two eggs and usually only raise one chick to fledging. Therefore, the loss of every individual has a devastating impact on the future of this species.

Smith sent a letter to Judge Hanna prior to sentencing, requesting a sentence of no less than 30 days’ jail time; no less than $93,700 fine; and no less than 200 hours of community service, to be served with a wildlife conservation group. If no jail time is given, the foundation recommended increasing this to 300 hours. The foundation also recommended revocation of Constantin’s hunting and fishing licenses for a period of five years. Nearly all the International Crane Foundation’s recommendations were taken into consideration by the judge, except for jail time, which is understandable considering the circumstances of the pandemic.

Smith told the judge that the American public is watching the outcome of this case. “This case represents how our nation values our natural heritage,” Smith explained. “My conservation colleagues and law enforcement agents do this work each day because we want to ensure future generations will experience the joy of observing this ancient symbol of hope fully recovered in North America and peacefully foraging in a Louisiana wetland.”

L5-15 in December 2015 prior to release.

In the letter, Smith also told the judge that the cost of raising, releasing and monitoring a Whooping Crane in Louisiana amounts to $93,701.67 per individual bird. This includes contributions from private, state and federal institutions.

Illegal shootings represent 30 percent of the known mortalities in the Louisiana non-migratory population of Whooping Cranes. This is the highest percentage of any of the wild populations of Whooping Cranes. Louisiana has the highest confirmed Whooping Crane shooting rate of any state or province, with 12 Whooping Cranes being poached since the start of the reintroduction in 2011.

Until this case, the highest punishment administered for a perpetrator in Louisiana was a $500 fine and 45 days in jail for Lane Thomas Thibodeaux, who shot a Whooping Crane in 2014.

The International Crane Foundation works worldwide to conserve cranes and the ecosystems, watersheds and flyways on which they depend. The foundation provides knowledge, leadership and inspiration to engage people in resolving threats to cranes and their diverse landscapes.