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Texas drought affects whooping cranes

Drought in Texas jeopardizes already endangered whooping crane

BARABOO, Wis. | January 23, 2012

Experts say the drought in Texas may jeopardize the already endangered whooping crane population, making a reintroduction program in Wisconsin crucial.

Texas' dry conditions have increased worries about the health of the cranes as the world's only self-sustaining flock of migratory whooping cranes winters in southern Texas, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Saturday.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service say the birds, which migrate from northern Alberta, Canada, to Texas, appear to be in good condition.

"But we are definitely concerned, and we are doing all we can to help them get ready for the migration," said Vicki Muller, an Arkansas spokeswoman.

Because of Texas' water problems, the International Crane Foundation in Wisconsin has been working to make a reintroduced flock of cranes self-sustainable.

"The cranes appear outwardly healthy," said Elizabeth H. Smith, a conservation biologist with the foundation. "But anecdotally, from my observations, they don't seem to be getting enough food."

The through a multimillion-dollar grant received by the foundation in 2001, scientists hatch cranes in captivity and then guide them on a migratory path to Florida.

The East Coast flock numbers about 100, while the western flock has about 300 cranes.

A similar reintroduction project in Louisiana began in 2010.

The foundation said starting new flocks in places such as Wisconsin is insurance for the species if catastrophe strikes in Texas.

"We think it vindicates the decision," said Richard Beilfuss, president and chief executive officer of the Crane Foundation in Baraboo. "There is plenty that can go wrong down there -- hurricanes, an oil spill and drought."

2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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