National Wildlife Week: the crucial nineties

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National Wildlife Week

The Interconnection

between Habitat and


In the heart of downtown Mississauga, Ontario, a city of gleaming new high-rise buildings, shopping malls and high-speed freeways, lies a small vestige of wild nature: the Little Creditview bog.

Despite its location in one of Canada’s most developed regions, the 4.5 hectare wetland is alive with frogs, red-wing blackbirds and waterfowl. Stands of tamarack, red and silver maple, along with 20 regionally rare plants, make the bog ecologically unique.

Development pressure in Mississauga is intense, but in this case, nature took precedence over development. The Creditview bog was recently saved from the bulldozer by a small but determined group of citizens who fought to have preservation of the wetland included in the developer’s plans.

“Development is encroaching on all sides in that area. Everything is closing in,” said Jocelyn Webber, a botanist and one of the main organizers of the “Save the Bog” group. They brought the situation to the attention of the Ontario Minister of the Environment, whose representatives recommended that the wetland be saved.

Saving the remaining wildlife habitat is particularly important in southern Ontario. It’s also critical in the grasslands of southern Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The skyscrapers and smog of downtown Mississauga might seem to have little in common with the rolling wheat fields and vast open skies of the southern prairies. But the two areas share one notorious characteristic: they are Canada’s most threatened habitats.

Both areas have been so drastically altered by development and human activity that their original residents–the ferruginous hawk, white-fringed orchid, southern flying squirrel, and American ginseng, among many others–now make up the majority of Canada’s 164 vulnerable, threatened and endangered plant and animal species.

Habitat destruction is the biggest threat to wildlife today. What can we do to minimize the impact of our activities on wildlife, and to prevent our list of endangered species from growing?


First, we need to incorporate the principles of sustainable development, as described in “Our Common Future”–the book, also known as the Brundtland Report, prepared for the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987. Sustainable development means the utilization of environmental resources, including wildlife and habitat, to optimize economic and other societal benefits today, while not damaging prospects for their use by future generations.

“Sustainable development will require changes in policy, sector by sector,” says Wayne Roddick, Communications Manager at Wildlife Habitat Canada, a national non-profit organization that works to restore habitat through projects that involve landowners, government agencies, and conservation organizations.

In agriculture, incentive programs should be established to encourage farmers to be good conversationists, to stop draining prairie potholes, or to let marginal farmland return to its wild state. In forestry, too, we need a whole new vision. “We must stop seeing a forest as so many board feet of lumber, and start considering it as habitat that supports a variety of users, including the wildlife that lives there,” Roddick explained.

Next, we need to manage wildlife by managing whole ecosystems, rather than individual species or parts of ecosystems. For example, the west coast salmon fisheries are dependent on good forest management. Salmon spawning beds in coastal rivers will choke up with sediments if trees are cut right to the river’s edge. In this case, departments of fisheries and forestry must work together closely. Recognizing the inter-connections in ecosystems, and working within them, may require major restructuring of the agencies that deal with wildlife management.

Finally, we must set aside some habitat as national parks, migratory bird sanctuaries and national wildlife areas in each of Canada’s 39 unique natural regions, and keep those areas free from development activities. At present 21 of the 39 regions have some area set aside. The Brundtland Report recommends that 12 per cent of each country’s landmass should be set aside. Completing the national parks system is an urgent matter, and one that needs to be addressed early in this “turnaround decade.” Lucien Bouchard, Minister of the Environment, agrees. He plans to see Canada’s national parks system completed by the year 2000.

Bouchard is receiving encouragement from World Wildlife Fund Canada, which recently announced a 10-year campaign to protect Canada’s “endangered spaces.” WWF will work with governments and private conservation agencies across the country to identify the ecological regions of Canada that still need protection, in order to complete a wilderness network totalling at least 12 per cent of our lands and waters. You can get involved in this campaign by becoming a charter Member of the Endangered Spaces campaign.

In Mississauga this spring, school children will visit the Little Creditview bog to learn about nature, see their first marsh wren, and try to gain an understanding of the relationship among animals and plants in an ecosystem. They may not be aware of it, but the bog is a victory for wildlife, for them, and for the concept of sustainable development. It’s one small example of how development and wildlife habitat can co-exist.

The Corporate Solution:

Business Working for Wildlife

During the 1960s, it would have been unthinkable for an environmentalist and a business executive to meet across a boardroom table and work out a co-operative plan to save wildlife habitat. In that “we versus they” era, both sides were hopelessly polarized.

Today, the tables have turned. All over Canada, the business sector is collaborating with environmental organizations and government agencies to improve wildlife habitat and to help those species most urgently at risk of extinction. Through corporate donations, wildlife research, sponsorship of public awareness campaigns, policy setting, and good corporate citizenship, the business community is showing a new concern.

AGF Mutual Funds, through its “Eye of the Tiger” program, is directing funding toward saving the habitat of the endangered Siberian tiger in the far east. Like Canada Life, AGF became interested in the animal’s fate because the tiger is their corporate logo, and looked to WWF for advice on how to get involved.

“Our original motivation was simply to help the animal,” says David Hayes, senior vice-president of marketing. “After we became involved, we realized there could be some significant marketing and competitive advantages in being associated with a conservation project. It’s a win-win-win situation.”

To ensure genetic diversity in the tiger population, AGF is collaborating with the Calgary Zoo and Canadian Airlines to bring three male tigers to Canada in May. The tigers will breed with animals in three North American zoos. “The zoos don’t want to expand the number of tigers in captivity, but they do want to ensure a viable genetic pool within the captive population,” explained Hayes. “Then if there is a problem in the natural populations, tigers from zoos can be released to the wild.”

In British Columbia, Shell Oil is trying to learn about the impacts of resource development operations on the grizzly bear. Dr. Doug Mead, Shell’s senior environmental scientist, said the company has been studying bears in the southeast corner of British Columbia since 1980.

“The research involves capturing and radio-collaring the bears, following, recapturing and weighing them, and trying to develop a complete inventory of bear populations in the region,” said Mead. “We want to determine the increase or decrease in the populations, find out which habitats are most important at which time of year, and learn about impacts of industrial activities on the bears.”

The studies have shown that disruption of important habitat and excessive noise have a negative impact. This research also pointed out that the beautiful voice (like something made by ibanez acoustic guitar) can help animals relax and increase reproducing activity. But a more serious problem is that new roads give the public access to habitat that was previously undisturbed. Roads increase the area open to hunting, both legal and illegal, and that affects bear populations. The answer may be in restricting public access to the roads, or in closing them up altogether after oil operations cease.

Seagram Distillers have been promoting conservation of fish stocks through their “Catch and Release” program. According to senior brand manager David Miller, Seagram undertook the project because they wanted to be seen as responsible corporate citizens. They also wanted to return something to nature. The program has generated at least $20,000 for provincial wildlife organizations across the country, and raised awareness about declining fish stocks across Canada. Seagram Distillers also attribute a noticeable sales increase to the program.

The food industry is getting involved too. Kraft General Foods, through their Post brand cereals, has launched a program called “Friends of the Wild.” The World Wildlife Fund will be given space on Post cereal boxes for a fund-raising campaign based on sales of wildlife art reproductions. Post will also sponsor a cross-Canada tour to collect 1,000,000 signatures for WWF’s Canadian Wilderness Charter. The charter will go to major shopping malls in 11 cities, where local celebrities and dignitaries will be invited to sign. Post will give WWF $100 for each invited celebrity signature.

Is business concerned about the environment? Yes, according to Tom d’Aquino, president of the prestigious Business Council on National Issues. “In the nine years I’ve been president of this organization, I’ve never seen the level of interest and involvement in a single issue that I’ve seen on the environment,” he said.

The council, which deals with major national and international policy issues, has identified the environment as one of the four leading priorities for the 1990s. “Business is definitely part of the problem,” said d’Aquino, “but we also see ourselves as part of the solution.”

The Benefits of Wildlife

The benefits to be gained from wildlife don’t end with our aesthetic and recreational enjoyment of nature, or even the important role it plays in the Canadian economy. As the natural environment grows more stressed, animals and plants are taking on a new role. They are becoming our early warning system, our “parrot in the mine.” Wildlife can tell us what is going awry in our environment, and whether our cleanup efforts are successful.


The Wildlife Scorecard:

How are we doing?

Every spring, all over Canada, research biologists emerge from their offices and head for the field. With notebooks, binoculars, scales, nets, and sampling devices, they venture into the still-frozen arctic, the newly green fields of the prairies, and the edges of streams still swollen with melt water. Throughout the field season they take countless measurements and record thousands of observations. They count snow geese, weigh polar bears, sample the invertebrate life of stream bottoms.

The purpose of all this activity is to come up with the answers to some vital questions: how are wildlife populations doing? And how are we doing in our efforts on their behalf?

Overall, the prospects are fairly good for Wildlife in Canada. Our most severely damaged habitats are receiving attention, and we are addressing the problem of habitat deterioration and its threat to wildlife in some cases before it is too late. But we could be doing better. Roughly half a dozen more names are added to our endangered species list each year. Only a few species have moved down from endangered to the less imminent categories of threatened and vulnerable, and only one species, the white pelican, has been removed from the list altogether.

In Canada, the status of wildlife species is determined by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). Made up of representatives from wildlife conservation agencies of the federal, provincial, and territorial governments and three environmental groups (Canadian Nature Federation, Canadian Wildlife Federation, and World Wildlife Fund Canada), COSEWIC meets annually to assess the status of Canada’s endangered species, and update the list.

Canada currently has 79 species at risk (in threatened or endangered categories). Unfortunately, four out of five of them have been receiving little or no attention. In 1988, government agencies concerned with wildlife set up an ambitious new organization and strategy to simplify and co-ordinate the enormous task of bringing endangered species back from the brink.

“RENEW”, for Recovery of Nationality endangered Wildlife, brings together teams who prepare recovery and management plans for individual species at risk. Each team then arranges for the plan to be carried out by wildlife agencies, universities and conservation groups. RENEW hopes to have recovery plans for all 25 endangered species of terrestrial vertebrate animals in Canada by 1992. (The program does not cover fish, or plants.) By June, 1989, plans had been established and approved for three species with six more in progress.

“The RENEW program is a very positive step toward re-establishing endangered species,” says Kenneth Brynaert, director of the Canadian Wildlife Federation. “Before it, we had no mandate to reverse the processes by which animals were becoming endangered. Now, we do.”

Canadians also have the opportunity to work for wildlife at the local level. The “Environmental Partners” fund, established by Environmental Canada in 1989, has allocated $50 million over the next five years to encourage communities and clubs to tackle and prevent environmental degradation, and to rehabilitate wildlife habitat.

This year, with help from Environmental partners, the Kiwanis Club of South Winnipeg will reintroduce Canada Geese into southern Manitoba by building nesting platforms in marshes. The Friends of Elk Island Society of Alberta will relocate breeding pairs of trumpeter swans from Grande Prairie to Elk Island National Park. The Southern Interior Bluebird Trail Club of Oliver, B.C. will construct and put up 300 bluebird nest boxes. In all, a total of 44 similar projects across the country will allow small local organizations to get involved in habitat enhancement and restoration.

Books and Pamphlets

on Wildlife and Nature

in Canada

Provincial governments are a major force behind the program at the local level. Through the Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources’s CWIP – Community Wildlife Involvement Program, community organizations can receive money to rehabilitate streams, plant trees and shrubs and create corridors of habitat. In Owen sound, Ontario, the Sydenham Sportsmen’s Club is using CWIP funds to build and put up nesting boxes for bluebirds, kestrels and bats. CWIP also sponsors conservation education projects and wildlife monitoring. The Ontario Lakes Loon Survey, carried out by hundreds of volunteers who while at their cottages monitor the health of loon populations, has recently gone Canada-wide, with funding from organizations like Ontario’s CWIP in the other provinces.

These and other programs across the country are still quite new, but before long their effects will begin to be realized. They are evidence of a growing commitment on the part of Canadians, not only to save our endangered species, but also to protect those whose populations are still healthy.

1. On the Brink: Endangered Species in Canada–Published by Environment Canada in 1989, this excellent book gives a good overview of the state of endangered wildlife in Canada.

2. Endangered Spaces–The Future for Canada’s Wilderness–Edited by Monte Hummel, President and Chief Executive Officer of World Wildlife Fund Canada and published by Key Porter, this book is the beginning step in an ambitious 10-year undertaking: to complete a network of protected areas across Canada by 2000. Twenty of Canada’s top environmental thinkers and writers share their thoughts in this very readable book.

3. Legacy: The Natural History of Ontario–Edited by John Theberge and published by McClelland & Stewart in 1989, Legacy explores some of Ontario’s special environments such as the Lake Erie sand spits and the Niagara Escarpment, and provides a fascinating account of the province’s natural and human history. Beautifully illustrated, with essays by some of Ontario’s best scientists.

4. Hinterland Who’s Who–The Canadian Wildlife Service continues to publish their “Hinterland Who’s who” pamphlets. Available free, and in bulk if needed, from The Distribution Section, Canadian Wildlife Service, Ottawa, Ontario K1AOH3.

>>> View more: Backyard bears

Backyard bears


Residents in suburban areas are battling wildlife that is encroaching their homes. The residents are afraid of catching animal-borne diseases and being attacked by the animals. Animal rights protests and environmental policies prevent action in some cases, and action disagreement prevents solutions.

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It’s been a ‘Wild Kingdom’ summer as deer, coyotes and other country critters invaded American towns. Can man and animals live together in peace?

THE GRASS IS GROWING AGAIN AT Miriam Ungerer’s house, which is something of a miracle. The wild ferns died long ago. So did five of Ungerer’s pink Himalayan rhododendrons. What’s left of the azaleas look like bonsai. The deer got them all. When Ungerer moved to North Haven, N.Y., in 1981 the Long Island village had about 100 deer roaming its woods. But in 1987 local animal lovers persuaded the town fathers to discontinue the brief hunting season. The deer population doubled, then doubled again. Drive down any street in North Haven today and you’ll see them grazing by the road, preening on a lawn like they own the place, which in a way they do. Some residents are so afraid they’ll get Lyme disease from a deer-tick bite, they barely go outside. Ungerer, who’s had the disease twice, just spent $800 to dig up her lawn because it was infested with ticks. She’d like to move, but it won’t be easy. “Who’s going to buy a house when you can only go in your yard dressed like a beekeeper?” she asks.

Americans used to kill for a house with cuddly wild animals gamboling nearby. Now, many suburbanites would like to kill the critters–raccoons, geese, beavers, even coyotes and bears–that are increasingly turning up as uninvited houseguests. It’s not just the nuisance factor. Michael Conover, a professor of wildlife science at Utah State University, estimates there are 1 million deer-vehicle collisions annually, at a cost of $1.1 billion. Then there are the animal-borne diseases, especially Lyme disease and rabies. And some of these creatures are dangerous. Though cougars and bears have only occasionally attacked humans, household pets are frequent prey. Near Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., this summer, wildlife investigators puzzled over panther-like claw and fang marks on a Lexus. When they popped the hood, they found the family kitten cowering on the engine–which may explain what happened to the half-dozen neighborhood cats that recently disappeared. Hunters used to keep the critters in check, but now they mostly do battle with stampeding animal-rights zealots. So as acre after acre of woodland is gobbled up for human housing, the tug of war with the animal kingdom gets worse. “In the 1970s we invited wildlife into our backyards,” says Jay McAninch of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “Now people are asking, ‘What are we going to do now that the wildlife is here?'”


Gooseburgers: The black bear that broke into a Sussex County, N.J., house and was caught raiding a woman’s underwear drawer naturally got a lot of attention last year. But it’s the smaller critters that do the most damage. In Massachusetts, beaver dams threaten hundreds of septic tanks and wells annually. In Illinois, it’s the garbage,hungry raccoon that’s driving people crazy. A raccoon downstate even scratched through one elderly woman’s attic floor and plopped next to her bed. Nationwide, Canada geese, once a trophy animal for golf courses, have added new meaning to the word “fowl”: their droppings threaten everything from local ball fields to fresh-water supplies. A few months ago Clarkstown, N.Y., slaughtered 251 of its 2,000 geese and ground them up into burgers; it is hoping to send them to a nearby zoo. “We’re not carrying on like this is a buffalo hunt. Our goal is to manage them,” says Clarkstown Supervisor Charles Holbrook.

It’s just that kind of “management” that many people are fighting against. This fall ballots in nine states feature initiatives that would outlaw most hunting and trapping. A $34 million National Wildlife Research Center under construction in Ft. Collins, Colo., will spearhead federal research into animal contraception and nonlethal traps. Mamaroneck, N.Y., has bought a trained border collie to chase the geese from its village greens. But these days, even seemingly benign solutions can draw fire. Part of Seattle’s $150,000 program to reduce its goose population included painting the eggs with nontoxic mineral oil, which suffocates the embryos. It worked so well, some anti-abortion activists protested the egg interference. But the program continues.

The residents of North Haven have bad a tougher time resolving the catfight over their deer. Last year the town paid $6,000 to count the herd (456 deer, compared with 712 people). Some want to shoot the deer with contraceptive-laced darts. Others say that will take years to work; they favor herding a couple of hundred deer into a pen and shipping them to a slaughterhouse. As a stopgap, the state Department of Environmental Conservation issued a few “nuisance” permits that allowed besieged homeowners to hunt on their own property. But the deer lovers insist they’ll stop the hunt. “My little dog dug up my vegetable garden, but I didn’t shoot it,” says Barbara Wersba, one of several people on both sides who say they’ve received death threats. “The people here are vicious about this.” It’s not such a great place for the deer, either. This year the village installed an industrial-size freezer behind the old 1875 clapboard schoolhouse. That’s where the deer killed by cars–as many as three a week-wait removal.


Yet the critters are here to stay, no matter what humans do. Today’s ideal suburb-lots of open space and fresh waterhas irresistible animal magnetism. In Florida, raccoons love the swimming pools. When they find one they like, they defecate on the top step to mark their territory. ”We were a bit naive not to realize these pretty, romantic habitats were going to be excellent places for other wildlife,” MeAninch says. And as wfld animals spend more time around humans, they adapt in ways Darwin couldn’t have imagined. In Wyoming, hunting guides have seen grizzly bears heading toward the sound of a rifle. They apparently know they won’t be shot (bear hunting is illegal), but they’re certain to find a freshly killed animal–and an easily intimidated human.

Perhaps the ultimate proof of the creatures’ comfort with their human neighbors is the frequency with which they show up in big cities, from Lucy the moose who captivated Boston to the beaver that blocked traffic when it felled a tree on Chicago’s North Lake Shore Drive. Even New York City, which is not always conducive to human life, discovered last year it had become home to five coyotes, which prompted “Late Show with David Letterman” to trumpet the phrase “New York: We’ve Got Coyotes!” Who doesn’t? Welcome to the jungle, city slickers.

>>> Click here: The incredible shrinking man

The incredible shrinking man


Researchers Theo Colborn, Louis Guillette and Neils Skakkebaek have documented endocrinal damage to human and animal males leading to reproductive deformities. The pollutant chemical concentrations studied fall far below most governmental risk thresholds.

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Theo Colborn is alarmed. Her wildlife research in the Great Lakes region has convinced her that common chemicals widely used in American homes and industries are affecting males of all species, causing dramatic reductions in fertility and a growing number of gross deformities in the male anatomy, including shrunken penises and testicular problems.
“I think we have reached the point where there are measurable changes in humans and the environment from the chemical soup we carry around in us,” says Colborn, a zoologist who earned her Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin and is now a staff scientist for the World Wildlife Fund. “There are too many parallels between what’s going on in the field and in the lab.”

Colborn believes popular chemicals used for growing food, treating and purifying water, manufacturing plastics, and producing pulp and paper are damaging the endocrine, immune, and reproductive systems of animals. and the chemicals are creating these effects at exposure levels far below accepted safety limits–thresholds typically set for measuring cancer risks.
By far the most troubling impacts occur in the womb, where the chemicals circulating in the mother’s body may deliver a profound punch to the developing embryo and fetus. Colborn calls this a “transgenerational effect.” Any fetal damage is permanent and irreversible, although the results may not appear until early adulthood. And, she notes, the pollutants could have been absorbed years earlier by the body, only to wreak havoc during childbearing.
“The effects are being seen in the offspring more than the parents,” says Colborn. “The problem is that people don’t understand that these chemicals are affecting fertility, the doorway to population.”
From her office in Washington, D.C., Colborn is mobilizing the scientific community. Twice in the past three years she has convened an international gathering of scientists at the Wingspread conference center in Racine, Wisconsin, to discuss chemical pollution, animal health, and fertility. All of the researchers carried pieces of the puzzle from their own specific investigations to the conferences. As they compared notes, they were startled by the emerging picture and they began to speak out.
“Every man in this room is half the man his grandfather was,” Louis Guillette told a group of lawmakers at a recent Congressional hearing. Along with the other Wingspread scientists, the University of Florida researcher was in Washington to spread the word about fertility threats in the environment. Guillette’s remarks referred to the fertility investigations of Neils Skakkebaek, a Danish scientist, and other Europeans. According to Skakkebaek, sperm totals for men have declined 50 per cent since the 1940s. Skakkebaek’s conclusion is based on the analysis of sixty-one sperm-count studies in which 15,000 men participated.
It’s the action of chemical pollutants on the endocrine system that defines how they are thought to harm life. “The endocrine system is the sister to the nervous system,” explains Guillette, a specialist in reproductive endocrinology.
The endocrine system regulates the body’s functions over the long run through the release of various hormones, much as the brain and nervous system govern the body from moment to moment.
The Wingspread scientists call the offending chemicals “endocrine disrupters.” In most cases, the hormonal pollutants fool the body into thinking they are estrogen, the primary female hormone. (A few of the pollutants, however, directly sabotage the actions of male hormones.) Males, like females, produce estrogen, though in far smaller amounts, and both possess estrogen “receptors” in their bodies. Like a key to a lock, the fake estrogens invade and occupy the receptor sites.
Guillette uncovered one of the most spectacular cases in Florida. Between 1980 and 1985, the alligator population crashed in Lake Apopka, the state’s third-largest freshwater lake. In every nest, something was wrong with the gator eggs. Surviving juvenile males had abnormally low testosterone levels and abnormally high amounts of estrogen. “In other words, they were feminized,” says Guillette.
Guillette’s team also observed that 25 per cent of males had shrunken penises that would never allow them to reproduce. Guillette blames a 1980 pesticide spill for the sexual warping. Lake Apopka’s alligator population has yet to recover, and Guillette’s researchers are now finding similar problems in other Florida lakes.

In the Great Lakes region, sixteen predator species, including mammals, reptiles, birds, and fish, show reproductive, thyroid, metabolic, and behavioral problems, according to Theo Colborn. All of these difficulties, she says, can be tied to endocrine disrupters.
The Wingspread scientists and the World Wildlife Fund have compiled an initial list of forty-five widely used chemicals that possess endocrine-disrupting effects. The roster includes thrity-five agricultural pesticides and a mix of ten other common metals and industrial by-products, as well as plastics.
If there’s one common link on the Wingspread list of known hormonal pollutants, it’s chlorine. Chlorine is a key component in twenty-three of the forty-five substances. Given that chlorine is extremely widely used, and is a $70 billion-a-year industry, this is an ominous finding.
“What we’ve in fact done is spray the globe with endocrine-disrupting compounds,” says Guillette. “Am I upset? Sure I’m upset. I can’t confirm right now that every person or thing is at risk, but for me there is tremendous concern.”

>>> View more: Ultralight-Aircraft Pilots Teach Refuge-Reared Cranes to Migrate

Ultralight-Aircraft Pilots Teach Refuge-Reared Cranes to Migrate

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Ann Geracimos is a writer with The Washington Times.

It’s easy enough to fall in love with a whooping crane. Just don’t try to kiss one. No matter how enamored they become, humans aren’t supposed to get close to the breed–at least when humans are without disguise and appear to the birds in recognizable form. A young chick can bond with a mammal and forget how to fly.

The tallest bird native to North America, the crane has a 5-foot wing span, a long, flexible neck, and a sharp beak that can peck out an eye. It also is one of the rarest birds around. The effort to keep the species alive has brought numerous people and organizations together through the years–mainly wildlife specialists who admit a fascination with the creature that borders on a kind of passion.

Pilot-photographer Joe Duff, CEO of the Canadian-based nonprofit Operation Migration, says he is drawn to the crane because it is so tenacious. “It came back from only 15 birds in 1942 and made it back again against all the odds,” he says. Fewer than 400 whooping cranes are alive today, he says.

Operation Migration was established 10 years ago to develop methods for teaching captive-reared birds to learn migration routes by following specially designed ultralight aircraft. Currently, Duff is one of three pilots leading 14 young birds on a laborious journey from their summer home at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin to winter range at Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. The route was selected by the Whooping Crane Recovery Team, an international group of American and Canadians whose task is to preserve the birds. Using the Wisconsin-to-Florida route, the team was able to avoid other paths used by wild cranes.


All but one of the 14 cranes making the trip were bred and trained at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Maryland, in a program operated by the U.S. Geological Survey under the direction of Research Manager John French. (The research center is one of several hundred refuges belonging to the National Wildlife Refuge System in the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service.)

To date, Patuxent has produced two-thirds of all the whooping cranes released in the wild. Pilots and birds left Necedah on October 10 and were expected to reach Florida sometime in late November. They fly low– between 100 and 1,000 feet–and spend only one to three hours in the air, stopping at prearranged sites each day. (Daily updates are given on When birds are older and their wings are stronger, they can go longer distances, sometimes gliding along on wind currents.

“The really impressive thing to me about the ultralight is we teach them to migrate using a pattern that is totally different from a naturally migrating pattern,” French says. “In a natural situation, a chick flies with two adults.” With the ultralight, the young birds must use their wings the whole time, whereas grown birds on their own can stay up for eight to 12 hours at a time at a much higher level to take advantage of winds known as thermals.

This is the fourth year for the flight, undertaken in order to imprint young birds with a knowledge of the route. Almost miraculously, so far each group has found its way back unassisted to their summer home. The cranes then are older, but French says he still finds it hard to believe they can make the return using patterns that involve a whole different navigation system.

The present method isn’t ideal, he acknowledges, but the publicity provides an opportunity to talk about crane preservation overall. “The vast majority of it isn’t nearly as glamorous as flying behind an ultra- light,” French says. Breeding and raising chicks successfully takes a lot of hard work. “lt takes a long long time and a lot of setbacks.”

Duff and others involved will count their efforts a success when there are three self-sustaining populations of cranes making regular migrations on their own, which he estimates could take up to 20 years. Only then could they be removed from the endangered list. Cooperating groups include the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, one of whose members is the International Crane Foundation.

Another wild flock migrates between northern Canada and Texas, but the total number alive at the moment isn’t sufficient to ensure survival of the species, experts say. Patuxent has about a dozen breeding pairs but not all breed every year, says Kathy O’Malley, a crane technician in the USGS Crane Husbandry and Propagation Program.

Some very ingenious methods are employed to breed the chicks and launch them into adulthood as part of a wild flock. For one thing, pilots in the air and handlers on the ground wear shroud-like coverings to shield their identity. Different costumes are used on people who might have to do anything unpleasant with the cranes, such as taking blood samples.

Young chicks become accustomed to the sound of the airplane while still in the egg. After birth, they are fed with the help of a hand puppet that resembles a mother crane. Handlers never speak in front of a crane so they don’t get used to the human voice.

A primary consideration is preventing the birds from becoming tame by minimizing contact with non-costumed humans, O’Malley says. Becoming tame can happen quickly; the cranes can recognize people by shoelaces, she says. “We want them when they hear or see human coming to react the way any wild animal would. We don’t want them saying, ‘Hey, I wonder if they have a snack on them,'” O’Malley says.

The center aims to produce the wildest chick it can, so when it is released into the wild, it will want to stay there–far away from humans. Developing tameness is a hazard for any animal, whether one raised in captivity or the wild. “This is very difficult for us to do, not being birds ourselves–to train them in the ways of being a bird,” French says. “It’s impossible for us to teach them how to forage, what to look for and so forth.”


To help them along, the center has constructed very large outdoor pens that provide plenty of foraging room so the birds are in an environment similar to one they might experience in the wild. Another major challenge is teaching chicks to learn to roost in water at night to keep land predators from attacking them while they sleep.

Losing a crane at this point in the project is a great emotional as well as scientific loss. It also is a costly one. A poacher who killed a bird in Florida was fined and put in jail. In order to know how much to fine the man, the judge asked what a single crane is worth. The answer was $200,000. “It was what we could provide evidence for,” French says. “It takes X number of years and 12 people working. It is a kind of ridiculous calculation, since how can you put a price on it?”

(c) 2004 News World Communications Inc.

Facing the odds: global effort to save the great apes

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Get Talking

Ask students: What are the four great apes? Where do they live? Why are great apes endangered? Have students identify Indonesia and west central Africa on a map.

Notes Behind the News

Great apes share about 96 percent of their DNA with humans. For chimpanzees, the figure is as high as 98.4 percent. African apes are actually more closely related to humans than they are to orangutans. According to Great Ape Survival Project (GRASP), humans’ relationship with apes is so close that a taxonomist from another planet would probably classify humans as an African ape species.

In a recent study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Washington University, scientists compared the DNA of chimpanzees and humans. By placing the two codes side by side, scientists identified 400 million molecular changes that separate humans and chimps and pinpointed 250,000 that seem to indicate differences between the two species. All told, the gene sequences differ by four percent. However, three-quarters of the differences seem to be in “non-functional” parts of the genome, suggesting that there is only a one percent difference between the two species.

Researchers say the study could help explain why chimps are resistant to several human diseases such as AIDS, hepatitis, malaria, and Alzheimer’s, which could help scientists find new ways to prevent or treat the diseases in humans.

Ultimately, scientists hope the new information will help discern what makes people human. “We’re not going to stand up and say that these 14 things make us human” said MIT’s Eric S. Lander. “But it’s not trivial to be able to say, ‘Here is an inventory of the most important differences, and now go at it and figure out which of these differences contain the signatories of what is distinctly human.”

The DNA analysis was the first of a nonhuman primate. Chimps are the fourth mammal to undergo testing


Doing More

Have students create a poster that illustrates the plight of the great apes and offers ways people can help.

Link It

* World Wildlife Foundation:

* African Wildlife Foundation:

* United Nations GRASP:

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of the Congo–Some of your relatives are in trouble–big trouble. Some are being killed; others are deathly ill; some are having their homes destroyed. If something isn’t done soon, your closest living relatives will be extinct.

They are the great apes: the gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos of Africa and the orangutans of Indonesia, and their populations are dropping at an alarming rate.

According to the United Nations Great Ape Survival Project (GRASP), as few as 350,000 great apes, which once numbered in the millions, now exist in the wild. and populations of some great apes are down to less than a thousand. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda, and Uganda, only 700 mountain gorillas remain. The chimpanzee has already become extinct in three countries–Benin, Gambia, and Togo.

“It’s crunch time,” says Ian Redmond, GRASP’s chief consultant. “We have to take drastic action before it’s too late.”

Taking action is exactly what GRASP recently got countries with wild great ape populations to do. At a meeting in Kinshasa, the capital of the DRC, 23 countries, mostly in Africa, signed a declaration vowing to protect the great apes. The agreement calls for each country to develop a plan for conservation and to significantly slow habitat loss (a main reason for declining great ape populations) by 2010.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan praised the agreement. “The great apes are our kin…. Sadly, however, we have not treated them with the respect they deserve…. This [is] an opportunity … to … chart a way forward.”

No Trees, No Apes

Saving the great apes from extinction is no easy task. They face a variety of threats–most of them from humans. One of the biggest is the loss of habitat caused by the felling of forests where the animals live. Orangutans are particularly at risk when many trees are cut.

“Orangutans are … arboreal. They are in trees 99 percent of the time,” says Cheryl, Knott, a Harvard University anthropologist. “Almost 80 percent of their rain forest habitat has been destroyed,” she says.

According to Knott, the primary reason for rampant land loss is the illegal logging industry in Indonesia. Although most logging is banned in that country, local authorities often accept bribes to allow loggers to cut down huge swaths of forest and sell the timber overseas.

Farming practices in Indonesia also play a part in orangutan habitat destruction. Wealthy farmers clear large tracts of land for palm oil and rubber tree plantations. One plantation can be as large as 50,000 acres.


Apes Under Siege

Excessive logging has exacerbated another threat to great apes–poaching or illegal hunting. Loggers build roads in remote regions of the forests, giving poachers an easy way into regions that were once inaccessible. “Tons and tons of wild animal meat are trucked into urban centers,” says wildlife expert Jane Goodall. “Hunters from the towns can use the logging trucks to go along the roads…. They shoot everything … load it onto trucks and take it into the cities,” she says.

People in the Congo Basin, a large rain forest area in central Africa, have lived on bush meat, as meat from wild animals is called, for thousands of years. But now the animals are being hunted faster than they can reproduce.

Civil wars have further aggravated the plight of great apes. Eleven of the African countries at the Kinshasa meeting have experienced civil wars in the last decade. In the DRC, unrest forced thousands of people into national parks, where more than 10,000 gorillas were killed for meat or money during the conflict.

“War destroyed the [economy], and people could no longer sell their crops,” says the African Wildlife Foundation’s Jeff Dupain. “They had no access to markets, so they just lived in the forest, where they hunted and ate and sold among themselves.”

Great apes have yet another strike against them–disease. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of great apes in Africa have died from Ebola since an outbreak in 2003. The deadly disease, which affects humans as well, kills from 50 percent to 90 percent of those infected. Nearly two-thirds of the 800 gorillas living in the Lossi sanctuary in northwestern Congo died from Ebola in 2003.

Saving a Species

Though it will be an uphill battle, conservationists think the Kinshasa treaty is a major step in the right direction. “It will take a lot of work … but we still have a chance to save these animals.”

The World Wildlife Fund’s Richard Carroll says there really is no choice. “If humans allow our closest relatives to go extinct, we have failed as a species.”

Words in the News

The United Nations (U.N.) is an organization of countries that works for world peace. Created in 1945, the U.N. now has 191 nations. The organization is not a world government and does not make laws. Instead, it helps resolve international disputes and formulates policies on major world issues. It also helps to develop friendly relations among nations and promotes respect for human rights. Each U.N. member country, no matter its size, has a say in the group’s actions.

The Congo Basin is the world’s second largest river basin and rain forest region, after the Amazon Basin. The Congo Basin is located in west central Africa and covers 1,335,000 square miles–about 11 percent of the continent. It includes parts of Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of, the Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Rwanda, Burundi, and Sao Tome and Principe. The Congo Basin rain forests are important because they support biodiversity, protect watersheds, help maintain water supplies, and regulate local climate patterns.

Jane Goodall (1934-) is a world renowned primatologist. She has studied chimpanzees in Tanzania since 1960. She observed chimps stripping leaves off twigs to make tools for fishing termites out of a nest–proving that humans are not the only species to make tools. Goodall also observed chimps hunting and eating other animals, disproving the theory that they are mainly vegetarians. Goodall founded the Jane Goodall Institute for Wildlife Research, Education, and Conservation in 1977 to support ongoing field research on wild chimpanzees.

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