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Raising Crane

Monday, December 03, 2012 - 07:00 PM

Whooping cranes learning their fall migration route from an ultralight aircraft piloted by a human wearing a crane suit. Whooping cranes learning their fall migration route from an ultralight aircraft piloted by a human wearing a crane suit. (USFWS/flickr/CC-BY-2.0)

In this short, costumed scientists create a carefully choreographed childhood for a flock of whooping cranes to save them from extinction. It's the ultimate feel-good story, but it also raises some troubling questions about what it takes to get a species back to being wild.

Perched in a duck blind in a wildlife research center outside of Washington, D.C., Andrea Seabrook gets a glimpse of her first whooping crane: a tall, snowy-white bird on stalky legs with a bright red-crested head. It's no surprise she had to drive to Maryland and hide in a tiny shack to see one -- less than a hundred years ago, there were just 16 whooping cranes left, and only 4 breeding females. 

Now scientists like John B. French are taking these cranes under their wings to keep them from dying out. It's no easy task -- the scientists go to ludicrous lengths to teach these cranes how to survive in the wild, while making sure the cranes never know they're interacting with humans. Chicks nestle with taxidermied moms, are taught the basics of crane life by puppet-wielding researchers wearing white cloth suits, and are led across the country by ultralight planes (piloted, of course, by a crane-suited human).

Crazily enough, it seems to be working -- there are now somewhere around 500 whooping cranes in the wild, 30 times more than there were in the 1930s.

But that's not quite the whole story. Andrea tells us about a sad mystery in the middle of this monumental effort -- one very crucial moment where things go terribly wrong. She and John French explain the strange behavior that has crane champions worried, and what might be causing it.

*Image of whooping crane at Patokah River National Wildlife Refuge in Indiana on its migration south. Steve Gifford/USFWS/flickrCC-BY-2.0.

For more on whooping cranes, check out Operation Migration's site for tons of amazing photos and info. And take a look at their YouTube channel, where we found this video of a friendly puppet teaching a whooping crane chick how to eat and drink:

Flip through this slideshow of whooping crane photos from the US Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters:

Researcher in a whooping crane costume.
Steve Hillebrand/USFWS/flickr/CC-BY-2.0
Researcher in a whooping crane costume.
Young whooping crane flying, Necedah National Wildlife Refuge.
Operation Migration/USFWS/flickr/CC-BY-2.0
Young whooping crane flying, Necedah National Wildlife Refuge.
Whooping cranes learning a migration route behind an ultralight aircraft.
Operation Migration/USFWS/flickr/CC-BY-2.0
Whooping cranes learning a migration route behind an ultralight aircraft.

October 9, 2012: Endangered whooping cranes learn their migration route above Pencatonica, IL.

Steve Hillebrand/USFWS/flickr/CC-BY-2.0
A human in a whooping crane costume feeds young cranes with puppet in a reintroduction pen at Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Florida.


Dr. John B. French and Andrea Seabrook


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Comments [45]

Shane Gove from Connecticut

I like it when the ancient Chinese put my weiner in their mouth.

Oct. 06 2017 12:57 PM
Shane Gove from Your daddy

I like men.

Oct. 06 2017 12:54 PM
Serena Morris from connecticut

I think you should try playing with the baby cranes, maybe that's why they are leaving their eggs because they don't know how to show love and attention.

Oct. 06 2017 09:37 AM

I know that this is an old podcast I just listened to, but I the glaring omission I noticed is just bugging me too much not to leave this comment. Yes so much that I have to make it even though nobody may ever see it.

Whooping Cranes aren't as in dire straights as this podcast made out, and weren't at the time it was produced.

In Northern Canada, close to a place I once lived, there are nesting sites with Whooping Cranes that are completely wild, and although the population is still low, are doing fairly well. There are now other nesting sites established elsewhere I believe.

Jul. 31 2015 07:58 AM
Elinor L. Rosseau from USA

During this entire podcast,I was thinking if the whooping crane is "mechanically developed" will they actually be true whooping cranes? Since they couldn't be trained naturally the keepers had to show them everything. To me this isn't natural, maybe it was in natures hands that the whooping cranes were to become extinct, but humans irregularly interfeared with this process. I am sort of conflicted over this topic because it's wonderful that people are trying to conserve and protect almost extinct species. But is it really that beneficial to all of the birds that can not function in the wild and are clueless after leaving the care of the dressed keepers?(After looking at the pictures,I found my haloween costume)

Feb. 02 2015 10:31 PM

So this podcast and a few other have really bothered me. I've noticed it especially on the SHORTS and have tried to research it. This episode and others sounds like takes on old Nickelodeon commercials. I can't find any other information about it but listening to these podcasts I feel like I'm hearing an extended version of Nickelodeon commercials. What is going on?? I know there are too many of these episodes to be just me, but I can't find any other mentions of it online. Let me in on the joke please. PTR

Sep. 13 2013 08:53 PM
mandi anderson


Jan. 28 2013 11:16 AM

I thought the same thing! Connecting the podcast "Inheritance" with this one could help.

If the licking of the mice mother had stimulated a behavioral conditioning in their young then something similar must be missing with the Whooping Cranes in the lab. Not only may it be the "licking" that is missing, but the Whooping Cranes that were put in the wilderness must have realized that they are alone and danger is around at all times. So why leave their young? (The longer the mother or parents lay giving warmth to eggs...the more the stimulation?) While on the other hand, the young in the lab is no where near a real mother or parent and is constantly fed and not in constant danger. I believe that there may be many factors as to why they are abandoning their young.

Addicted to RadioLab!

Jan. 26 2013 09:00 PM
Emma from Scotland

I loved this post. But as for all the reasons people are coming up with for why the cranes won't sit on their eggs... I was almost screaming at my iPod, because the most likely answer to me is one that you covered in the very previous show - 'Inheritance'!!

Remember the mother rats who licked their young, thus methylating DNA that increased the nurturing response in their offspring? And rats with less licking licked their offspring less?

It seems very likely to me that there is something similar at work here. Now, whether it's grooming, chirping, feeding... that will be very hard to discern. But it seems like a very strong contender for the whole premise of the Inheritance show - epigenetics!

Of course it could indeed be something else, including a learned behaviour, but I was surprised it was never considered!

Jan. 24 2013 04:38 PM
Jer from DC

I had an idea about why they are walking away from their eggs as parents. Obviously, knowing how long it takes to sit on an egg is something you cannot teach a chick, as this knowledge/skill, is only relevant before they were born. In other words, we need to find a way to expose babies/adults/adolescents, to parents, fake or live, and parenting (i.e. doggedly sitting on eggs until the they hatch).

Currently I am studying human flourishing at the university of Pennsylvania. One of the things that we are finding is that it is impossible to flourish without connection to others and existing within the context of a community. By raising whooping cranes without a community that includes parents who are raising other chicks at different life stages, the cranes might be missing out on key life-stage skills. What do you think?

Jan. 07 2013 06:42 PM
Mary D from Connecticut

I completely agree with the last comment I though exactly the same thing. Why don't they try to remove the plexiglass and let the mother crane 'mother'. Can we find out if they tried this already?

Jan. 04 2013 07:09 PM

As I listened to this podcast and the three theoretical reasons why the cranes may be abandoning the eggs I couldn't help but think, "are these scientists really not thinking of the most obvious reason?" It is so obvious to me that it occurred to me at the beginning of the podcast when the baby bird hit the plexiglass--I knew that as soon as they separated the baby bird from a real in-the-flesh mother something would not go right. They can't possibly think that a stuffed bird, humans in costume and a puppet can replace a mother crane can they?

Dec. 29 2012 12:57 AM
Elliott from LA

I agree with many of the can there be so much mystery among the researchers as to why the mothers are leaving, when it seems so obvious?

The first thing that came to mind for me is attachment theory. The mothers simply never learned how to develop attachment as chicks, so they are not able to give it to their offspring.

I am sure there are so many nuances of how that mother child bond gets created that can't be replicated by puppets and machines...

If nothing else it seems like an interesting study in attachment among animals.

Dec. 18 2012 04:51 PM
Dolly from Virginia

What is missing here is love. Some people have touched on it above, but nobody had come out and said it. You can't convince me that love is just a product of our overgrown frontal cortex. What I think they should do is to carefully raise enough chicks that the parents can actually nurture and teach how to be cranes. I bet there would be more of them now if they had done this all along!

Dec. 17 2012 09:47 PM

I agree with Autumn's comment. I've been heartbroken for the baby cranes all week. It is cruel to frustrate them with a plexiglass barrier to a living mother. I understand your goal is to revive the species, but living creatures need proper nurturing.

Dec. 16 2012 01:40 PM
Chris Pratt from Denver

Maybe the new cranes don't nurture there eggs because they wherent nurtured similarly as an egg. Similar to how a pregnant mother stimulates a baby with music or talking and touch. The new born don't know how to nurture an egg. They said they had to "teach them everything".

Dec. 13 2012 01:31 AM
Jeremy from Los Angeles

IMHO, this program has accomplished so much, and to resign oneself to "ambivalence" or pessimism at what may be the cusp of success is unwarranted.

There is a population of 500 cranes now, and perhaps that is a resource that can be tapped. Since these birds live so long, maybe some of them can be brought back to become foster mothers for the incubated eggs. Now that the program has come this far, they have created new options for the future of the program that didn't exist when they first began. If this program continues and becomes successful, perhaps that know-how can be applied to bring other species back from the brink.

What human accomplishment isn't completed in baby steps and without any setbacks? We didn't go to the moon on the first mission. There were all the Mercury missions, then the Gemini missions, then 10 Apollo missions to gain the know-how necessary for success. When a fire broke out in a test prior to the Apollo 1 mission in 1967, the other astronauts didn't know whether the entire moon landing project was going to be cancelled or not. Thankfully our thinking was bigger than that. We didn't even try to accomplish a moon landing until the third or fourth iteration. But when we did shoot for the ultimate goal, we had 7 successful missions out of 8. How would our futures all be different if we had been pessimistic about the program and had cancelled it? Who knows, I might be writing this in Russian.

I think the future is bright for these birds. I for one am excited by the know-how they've acquired so far. I am excited about different avenues that could be pursued in a second iteration. But to expect to get all the way to the ultimate goal on the first or even the second iteration of this program may be expecting too much too quickly.

The United States is a country that was founded by people who weren't afraid of failures and weren't afraid to take risks. In 1969 that spirit was still alive and well. Is that spirit now dead? How will our future be different if we begin turning back from achievement at the first setback? If we turn back from achievement with these whooping cranes, how many other species will go extinct because we lacked the fortitude to discover how to recover from our past environmental mistakes?

Dec. 12 2012 08:49 AM
Autumn Sousanis from Lathrup Village, MI

Heartbreaking podcast. I'm a mom, mother of 6. It's late at night, I'm cleaning up the house and listening and thinking about that plexiglass wall. And I'm thinking THAT is the problem. These birds are known to be smart, inquisitive, excited by the outdoors, frogs, teachable...but these captive babies are allowed no real mother? The idea is that humans in costumes, with puppets and recorded sounds can approximate a mother and child interaction? The baby cranes are not bonding. They're imprinting but not bonding.

What about smell? I am a human animal. I don't understand it but I want to smell my baby's head all the time. Just about all moms do. I don't even realize I'm doing it, it's so very primal. I don't think I even can detect any smell half the time but I need to do it anyway.

My youngest just turned one. She is so much more tuned in than anyone gives babies credit for. She absolutely knows what is going on, what to expect from which person, what happens next in the day...and it sounds like the baby cranes are the same way.
Poor baby crane, trying to get a real cuddle from a lifeless- albeit warm- stuffed shape. That baby is getting what it needs to stay alive, but not what it needs to learn how/or grow to nurture another baby. I think the humans in the crane story are being greedy in their understandable haste to breed back the crane population. If cranes babies are never really cuddled, just heated, never really 'nursed', just fed, never really mothered, just played recordings and given puppets and stuffed/lifeless/forms, then how can you expect them to cuddle, 'nurse', and mother? I think you need to let one baby crane have a real mother crane and see. And I bet smell and 'the real' of it all will win out over the best pretend that money can buy.

Dec. 12 2012 01:38 AM
Kevin from Durham, NC

The process of science is filled with failure and frustration. Doing something that has never been done before cannot be accomplished any other way. Looking at success achieved to date, I am filled with confidence that the men and women who work on this project day after day will make the discoveries to succeed. Give them and the cranes the time they need to make it work. The overly negative tone at the end of the podcast is really out of place considering the successes of this program to date. Why not pick a point in the middle of any project where all the problems have not been solved and declare failure?

Concerning the cost, which is trivial in this countries budget, not only do they save cranes but are doing amazing science. All of this countries wealth has come at the expense of these and many other animals lives and in some cases existence. If we have any conscience as a people, projects like this one are a small penance for our selfishness.

Dec. 11 2012 12:58 PM

There are aspects of this program not well understood and the podcast touches on them but not in much detail. The blackflies are a definite problem in nest abandonment. If you have ever been bitten by ONE blackfly you might understand--and the podcast mentioned the head of the sitting Whooping Crane being COVERED with blackflies. And they have no way of brushing them off like we can with our hands. This problem is being addressed and will hopefully result in a huge reduction of blackflies in the nesting area. Next, Whoopers typically breed at 4-5 years of age so it take those years to get the first nesting results in any case. They don't start producing offspring the year after they hatch like many smaller birds. The good news is after reaching breeding age they can breed (if they survive--and certainly not all do) for 30-35 years. Also, this program (establishing a second flock in the East) has had 12 successful ultralight led migrations so far between Wisconsin and Florida, so currently only about half the birds are of breeding age. To compound the problem, even the cranes (in the Texas flock) who have been raised totally wild by wild parents are often unsuccessful in their first few attempts at raising chicks. It takes time and maturity for even these birds to become successful parents. The eastern (Wisconsin-Florida) flock is now just over 100 birds and in all fairness is just now reaching a point where they can be expected to produce a reasonable number of chicks each year. The next couple years should give a good indication of the breeding success of the eastern flock.

Dec. 10 2012 10:35 PM
thomas bryan gilley

I love this main podcast. But i do get what you mean by how to cranes that have baby's in the wild, don't let the egg hatch. I think it might be that when y'all had the other room for the eggs to hatch away from the mother. That the new born learned what they needed to learn to live. But my opinion is that the eggs need to be with there mom in the stages so that it can see how the mother would sit on the eggs and let them hatch fully. Now i know that if y'all did that the baby cranes wont grow in population. But since y'all keep them from the real mother in the first breath of its life, it does not know what to do, when it comes to having it own children. Now when i say it doesn't know what to do when it comes to having its own children i mean that it does not know what to do to let them hatch fully. in this case i mean that it wont stay there long. the new eggs will die. it seems as if it doesn't get its full natural instinct of a male/female crane when they have a baby. it looses the behavioral ideas of its real father and mother.

Dec. 10 2012 11:28 AM
Nathalie from Edwardsville, IL

I really enjoyed this podcast. I am an avid supporter of biodiversity and do have an inclination towards birds also so how I comment doesn't come easily. My concerns: 1. benlink mentioned the question of the gene pool... I am not a genetics expert but I do question only having four 'producers' for eggs to support the 150+ birds that have come out of the lab. 2. My emotional, bird-loving side sincerely smiles at hearing about this research. It is safe to say that I care more about biodiversity than anything else, in my logical sense. However, as some other folks posted, the whooping went extinct and it is possible that the environment that it requires also went extinct. Emotions say bring it back, see if we can teach it how to hack it in this world that is changing drastically and at sickening speeds. Logic says that this is a reactive approach to the problem of biodiversity and perhaps we need to focus on proactive strategies more. Undoubtedly, brilliant people are working of proactive research and I wish I knew more about them and this particular study has different goals. It is unique and fascinating that we brought these birds up.

The conclusion, the mothers walking away from their eggs, also bring up nature vs. nurture questions. Perhaps their nature, their genes are too stretched to allow for those natural parental instincts? Nurture? Perhaps there is more to imprinting than costumes and airplanes. Granted, we all know that ... so we keep trying new things but I wonder if it "the right thing to do" (emotions say yes! logic is skeptical). Bioconservationists today are making impossibly difficult decisions as to which species to CHOose to protect, simultaneously condemning those that are not chosen to fend for themselves. We hope to choose those species that by protecting, shares the wealth and perhaps by conserving their habitat, numerous other species will be helped as well. I don't have any answers... just a lot of questions. Biodiversity has to be fought for through many planes/angles but those are my concerns.

Dec. 09 2012 06:17 PM
Danielle from Sacramento

They should try a simulated hatching room, with a weight and sounds from a real mother 'talking' to her eggs. Maybe that would imprint motherhood.

Dec. 09 2012 12:10 AM
Gordon from Sultan, WA

The question 'why' needs to be more clearly addressed here. In the interview Jed asked the scientist why they have been doing this research and trying to bring back the population of cranes and he replies "because it's the right thing to do." This is an unscientific reason that does not take the big picture into account.

When the cranes were nearly killed off the ecology of their habitats changed permanently; other species had to adjust to the new lack of cranes. What impact will reintroducing cranes have on the habitats that are already struggling with enough change from other influences? In addition, it seems odd that they are trying to adjust an evolutionary change that may have put the cranes at a natural disadvantage; namely having one chick per clutch. It is entirely possible that due to this trait the cranes may have gone extinct without human intervention.

While it is unfortunate that humans have such a drastic impact on biodiversity and lead some species to extinction it seems that is where human influence should end. It is important to minimize the effect we have on species, but essentially this project is reintroducing a new species of crane into the environment without fully understanding the consequences, or having a clear picture of the benefits.

Dec. 08 2012 04:30 PM

This was an interesting episode.
I'm sure the scientists have tried everything, but what about giving paired cranes a "pre-incubated" chick that is about to hatch. Sneak in and replace the natural egg with an incubated one. That way, they can't ditch it before it hatches, and the chick gets raised by potentially willing parents instead of puppets.
Peter, you mention that $50,000,000 is too much to spend. The Government spent $720 million a day in Iraq. There was $6 billion worth of advertising spent (wasted?) in the last election campaign. Science is always ignored and underfunded. Scientific discovery is worth the money-it will help to preserve our planet and design the future. You sound like the same people who opposed the mission to the Moon.

Dec. 08 2012 08:44 AM
Tim from Monroe, WA

Try putting the bugs with the chicks and have the mock bird peck the head of the chick. That way the bird associates the bugs with nurturing and sticks around.

Dec. 07 2012 03:37 PM
Dovid Lew from Brooklyn, NY

I heard the Podcast "Raising Crane" and loved it, as I do every one of your shows.
In response to Tim from Monroe, WA, your idea is right on! Although I have to point out that feeding saliva will not work. Rather the baby's need to be actually nurtured by their mothers, thereby "awakening" in them maternal instincts/DNA.

Dec. 06 2012 06:38 PM
Kris Patel from St. Louis

I can't even imagine how frustrating this must be for Dr. French. Putting that much effort into trying to emulate a natural upbringing for these cranes only to have them abandon their own young - failing to do what scientists have emulated. It's odd and disheartening because these scientists won't give up on the cranes but these cranes will. Hopefully, in time, these cranes can learn how to raise their own young with the help of the three cranes born in wild.

Dec. 06 2012 02:45 PM
Catherine from Tampa, FL

So inspiring, motivating and a great people to do what they do!!

Dec. 06 2012 02:36 PM
Madalynn G from New York

In the beginning, Andrea explained that the baby cranes need to be taught everything from how to swallow water to how to migrate. I expected the researchers to explain that they have tried to teach the babies to be parents by showing a mother crane sitting on an egg for the duration of its incubation, since it is necessary to instruct EVERY behavior presumably, equally driven by instincts as the behavior of swallowing water. Would that work?

Dec. 06 2012 01:00 PM
Rebecca from Portland, OR

I wonder if this has been tried: Next to the taxidermied/fake mother, put plastic eggs under her. If the young goslings could see the mother sitting on top of fake eggs when they were simultaneously nurtured by her, perhaps they would remember and stay with the eggs more consistently.

Dec. 06 2012 02:13 AM
Tim from Monroe, WA

The answer to fix the crane population is in the podcast from two weeks ago in the inheritance episode about rats and nurturing. Take saliva from the mom and distribute it to the gosling through the fake crane while feeding. And it must be done when the crane is very young.

Dec. 06 2012 01:14 AM

"What went wrong...?" I don't think there's anything wrong at all- the lineages where the mother takes care of the young are the lineages that will survive. This is adaptation at work, happening before our very eyes. Those lineages will continue to propagate.

Dec. 05 2012 06:55 PM

I could be wrong but the problem seems simple to me. The surrogate/fake cranes that are used to teach the newborn cranes simply cannot replace a real mother. What do we know about what information is communicated between a mother and chick? And how can we expect for that same information to be transmitted between a puppet and a sentient creature? In my opinion if they had only used real cranes, even just the few they had available, to rear the chicks the issue of them leaving their eggs would not have developed.

Dec. 05 2012 05:25 PM
Rachael from Ogden, Utah

3 wild ones is a huge success! I know evolutionarily, it may not be enough now, but I am proud that we have accomplished this. I have worked on the Great Salt Lake with Sand Hill Cranes and if these cranes are anything like them, all of this money is worth it.

Dec. 05 2012 03:46 PM
bob minder from wbur wgbh

I think there were only 20 or so California Condors left in the wild in the 1980's. A couple of California zoos, probably San Diego was one, began a breeding program and now there are four or five hundred wild condors. I saw one once and being in California figures that Kareem could ride one wing and Wilt the other and Shaq could take the middle and if the condor were open to a Celtic bribe, they'd still be flying the Pacific towards the Aru Islands!

Dec. 05 2012 02:06 PM
David Pollack

This is very similar to the methods that were used to rear and recover the Takahe population of New Zealand's south island. This bird is in the rail family, a relative of the moorhen or coot seen in the US. The bird was thought to be extinct until some alive adults were found. A recovery process included using parent-like puppets to imprint and guide the newly hatched birds to eat and feel connected to a parent figure.

Dec. 05 2012 02:03 PM

I would have thought that you would need a larger gene pool than 16 to repopulate a species.

Dec. 05 2012 01:38 PM
taralej from home

intresting case, but it's kinda logical, isnt it. there would always be puppets/nannies required.

Dec. 05 2012 11:17 AM
E. Johnson from Earth

"All that you touch
You Change.

All that you Change
Changes you..."


Dec. 05 2012 01:16 AM
Peter Prato from Oakland, CA

As always, I enjoyed the show. I also don't think it's possible to regenerate a species without placing some indelible differences into it if that regeneration is provoked by humans. The story seems to land on that point. There's something we're doing wrong. And it should be obvious that we couldn't recreate the environment in which it took this species to evolve. We've changed too many variables, namely, adding the morality of humans. That said, I do think that it's a smart way to invest money to try to gain a better understanding of how human beings have played a role in losing the world they inherited. It strikes me as a smart insurance policy.

One last question- the instrumental song playing in the background of the episode- does anyone know what it is?

Thanks, Radiolab!


Dec. 04 2012 04:44 PM
Eric M

Something about this story troubles me, and I think the comment at the beginning of the video about a "feel good story that you may not know how to feel about" sums it up.

It is amazing that we have been able to regenerate a population that was once thought lost. What troubles me, however, is the way that we are doing it. Can we really consider today's whooping cranes to be the same as the whooping cranes of old? The way that we raise them has essentially changed their behavior and way of life.

As was pointed out in the episode, whooping cranes nearly went extinct due to human activity, hunting, etc. It seems to me as though we are being reckless in fixing a problem that we initially caused through recklessness.

I am all for maintaining diversity of species on earth, but I don't think it is right to sacrifice the defining factors of a species, just to save it from extinction.

Dec. 04 2012 12:55 PM
Kevin from Boulder, CO

I found the comments that the Andrea Seabrook was "apathetic" and perhaps it was "too hard" to be weak. Science is always hard and is always accompanied with challenges and failures. What these scientists are doing seems as if it is promising (albeit, expensive). The lack of hatching eggs is a major challenge, probably due to some minor inconsistency between the natural birth patterns of cranes and the artificial ones provided (e.g., see the mouse licking discussion provided in the 'inheritance' podcast). The generation of a large population of cranes, even if done so somewhat artificially, at least provides for the opportunity of natural selection. Those cranes that do not leave their eggs will propagate, those who do, will not. It will be interesting to see if the three that were nested naturally raise their offspring. If they do, the natural population will recover, with time, as they originally did.

Dec. 04 2012 09:38 AM

Did any of the few chicks that did manage to hatch survive to adulthood? Hatching chicks is only the beginning. In the effort to reinvent one set of critical behaviors the biologists managed to extinguish another set. There were a number of measures taken to prevent the chicks from imprinting on both the wrong cranes and on humans. Perhaps the basic assumption that parenting is a completely instinctive behavior for cranes is simply wrong.

Dec. 04 2012 09:11 AM

This may sound cruel, but it sounds to me like this is a failed experiment that should be discontinued. The fact that the whooping cranes have been unable to produce/raise their own offspring (except in rare circumstances) seems to suggest that the species has run its "evolutionary course". In other words, it's almost as if the birds themselves are admitting defeat. While three possible explanations were given for why the whooping cranes leave their eggs unhatched, the simplest and most probable explanation was hardly addressed: the fact that these birds never experienced a natural upbringing, and therefore have literally no knowledge of how to raise offspring themselves. I suppose that this issue could be overcome given enough time and resources, but do the benefits really outweigh the costs? I understand the importance of maintaining biodiversity and the noble intentions related to preserving a species, but there comes a time when one must acknowledge the fact that humanity has had an irreversible impact on the earth and its inhabitants. Unfortunately, some of these inhabitants must suffer our consequences.

While it is certainly worthwhile and necessary to protect as many endangered species as possible, sometimes you have to cut your losses. If the numbers provided in this story are correct, the government has already spent close to $50,000,000 on this project. With all due respect to the whooping crane and the scientists who have dedicated their lives to it, there are many better ways to spend this money.

Dec. 04 2012 03:44 AM

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