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Rare whooping cranes raised for wild as COVID rules relax

Rare whooping cranes raised for wild as COVID rules relax

NEW ORLEANS — A year after pandemic precautions all but halted work to raise the world’s most endangered cranes for release into the wild, the efforts are back in gear.Fourteen long-legged, fuzzy brown whooping crane chicks — one more than in 2019 — are following their parents or costumed surrogates in facilities from New Orleans to Calgary, Canada.“We are thrilled to have bounced back in the wake of the pandemic,” said Richard Dunn, assistant curator of the Freeport-McMoRan Audubon Species Survival Center in New Orleans.Adult whooping cranes are white with black wingtips and red caps, and at 5 feet high are the tallest birds in North America. Only about 800 exist, all descendants of about 15 that survived hunters and habitat loss in a flock that migrates between Texas and Alberta, Canada.Last year, zoos and other places where the endangered birds are bred had to cut staff and reduce or eliminate use of artificial insemination, which requires close work by two or three people, and of having people in shape-disguising costumes raise chicks.“One chick hatched out at the Calgary Zoo,” Dunn said. “And it had to stay in Calgary because they couldn’t cross the border” to get it into either of two U.S.-only flocks.Both a flock based in southwest Louisiana and one taught to migrate between Wisconsin and Florida by following ultralight aircraft were created in hopes of mitigating disaster should anything happen to the original border-crossing flock, now about 500 strong. The original flock is the only one that can survive without human assistance to increase its numbers.Seven chicks hatched this year at the Species Survival Center.Aurora, a male produced there by artificial insemination, is being brought up by his mother and “stepfather,” though his mother is temporarily hospitalized after chipping her beak on their enclosure’s chain-link fence.The other six — five hatched from eggs taken from the wild in Wisconsin and one from an egg bred at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin — are being raised by staffers.The Milwaukee Zoo is raising one chick from an egg received from the crane foundation, and the foundation and the Calgary Zoo are each raising three chicks. The Milwaukee Zoo’s chick will remain captive for breeding, Dunn said.Dunn said Audubon and the crane foundation are the only facilities that use costume-rearing as well as having mated crane pairs bring up babies, and this year only Audubon did so.Pandemic prospects were still uncertain and vaccines not yet readily available in February, when the foundation had to make its decisions, crane foundation aviculturist Kim Boardman said in an email. “We expect to costume and parent rear again in 2022,” she said.Audubon’s keepers do checkups and other tasks the chicks won’t appreciate while wearing regular clothes, to teach them that humans are to be avoided.When teaching the chicks to hunt and other crane behaviors, they dress in baggy costumes with the neck of a crane-head hand puppet holding in one loose, black-tipped “wing.” The puppet demonstrates how to pick up insects from the ground, then passes the tasty morsels to a chick.Although the chicks will be given identifying numbers such as L1-21 when they’re released as mottled brown-and-white juveniles late this year, at Audubon they have names: Blizzard, Fog, Hurricane, Lava, Lightning, Tornado — the only female — and Aurora.It’s been a good year in the wild, too — Louisiana’s 68 adults included a record 24 nesting pairs. They hatched a record 14 chicks. including two in Texas, and five have survived into July, said Sara Zimorski, a biologist with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.Youngsters that live long enough to fly get numbers starting with LW and the number assigned at hatching. One of Louisiana’s five has been seen flying, and, along with a yearling is counted in the 70-member flock. If all five become fledglings, that will tie a record from 2018.The Wisconsin-Florida flock numbers about 80, with about 120 birds in captivity. Seven eggs were taken from Wisconsin’s flock to be raised in captivity, at least 14 more hatched in the wild and six of those survived through June.Eggs are collected from early wild nests because parents will lay a second if the first doesn’t hatch or the chicks die. Collections not only increase the number of chicks per year but in Wisconsin, help keep wild chicks from hatching when bloodsucking black flies are at their worst.One of Louisiana’s Texas-nesting pairs also hatched a chick last year — the first documented since the early 1900s, Zimorski said. Texas is the original flock’s winter home but those birds nest in Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park.This year’s Texas survivor was hatched by first-time parents and is still very young, Zimorski wrote in an email. “It has a long ways to go!” she said.

Rescued sea turtles: some to be released, some still sick

Rescued sea turtles: some to be released, some still sick

The Mississippi Aquarium plans to release seven endangered sea turtles this weekBy JANET McCONNAUGHEY Associated PressJune 22, 2021, 9:12 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleNEW ORLEANS — The Mississippi Aquarium plans to release seven endangered sea turtles this week, but other institutions in New Orleans and Mississippi are still treating turtles rescued in the fall from frigid New England watersThey’re among 75 turtles brought to New Orleans and Gulfport, Mississippi, after washing up in New England, injured and sick from the cold.All are Kemp’s ridley turtles, the smallest and most endangered of the six species found in U.S. waters, but the species most common in the northern Gulf of Mexico. All six species inhabiting U.S. waters are listed as endangered or threatened.Sea turtles get cold-stunned and lethargic when water chills quickly and they can’t get to warmer waters. The cold alone can kill them. It can also lead to pneumonia, shock and frostbite.Thirty went to the Audubon Nature Institute in New Orleans, 25 to the aquarium and 20 to the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, both in Gulfport.The aquarium plans to release its final group of seven on Thursday, Mississippi news outlets reported.“When we received the turtles, they had severe pneumonia, but now, these turtles are once again healthy, and we will release them back into the Mississippi Sound,” said Dr. Alexa Delaune, the aquarium’s vice president of veterinary care.The institute and Audubon’s Coastal Wildlife Network team are still treating some.Moby Solangi, director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Study, said Tuesday that a few of the turtles brought there didn’t survive. He said that five or six have been released and 10 or 12 are still being treated for pneumonia.Most of those brought to Audubon have been released, but two died and three are still being treated for other serious injuries, spokeswoman Annie Kinler Matherne said Tuesday.She said one arrived with a ruptured right eye, kidney failure and severe pneumonia. Two others had frostbitten shells and needed to grow new bone. One of those also had frostbitten front flippers, parts of which had to be amputated, Matherne said. She said the third is suspected to have fungal pneumonia rather than the bacterial pneumonia that many of the turtles had.Veterinarians hope the one-eyed turtle and the one which had frostbitten flippers will be well enough for release sometime this summer, Matherne said.

Making hot sauce and working to save wetlands

AVERY ISLAND, La. — As storms grow more violent and Louisiana loses more of its coast, the family that makes Tabasco Sauce is fighting erosion in the marshland that buffers its factory from hurricanes and floods.Overall, the effort is probably a standoff, says CEO and president Harold “Took” Osborn, great-great-grandson of the McIlhenny Co.’s founder. But in a state that has lost 2,000 square miles (5,200 square kilometers) of its coast since 1932, holding your ground is a victory.The company has been brewing Tabasco Sauce since 1868 on Avery Island — the tip of a miles-deep column of salt — and now fills up to 700,000 bottles a day, selling them in 195 countries and territories.While sinking land is a problem throughout southern Louisiana, Avery Island and four smaller salt domes along the Gulf Coast are still slowly rising.But the danger from hurricanes remains. A 20-foot (6.1-meter) high, $5 million earthen levee now encloses the 40 acres (16 hectares) or so around Tabasco’s factory because Hurricane Rita’s storm surge pushed floodwaters within inches (centimeters) of it in 2005.Much of the wetlands work is low-tech, enlisting volunteers to plant marsh grass in the 30,000 acres (12,100 hectares) around the small island a bit north of Barataria Bay, one of the areas hit hardest by the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.Osborn holds a master’s degree in environmental science from Oxford University, but one might say conservation is in his DNA. The company’s founder, Edmund McIlhenny, was a self-taught naturalist. Osborn’s great-grandfather, E.A. McIlhenny, created an egret rookery at the island in 1895 because the birds were nearing extermination by hunters who sold their plumage to adorn women’s hats.In recent decades, McIlhenny Co. has armored shores against erosion with big rocks and has terraced wetlands to slow waves enough to let sediment drop out and form new land, Osborn said. “But the thing that works the best for the least amount of money is grass,” he added.As he steers a company boat, Osborn, 58, points to an expanse of grass stretching deep into the marsh. Ten years ago it was open water — an oilfield canal that had widened over time.Its mouth was plugged by planting clumps of smooth cordgrass a few feet apart wherever the bottom was a foot (30.5 centimeters) or less below the surface.While the grass traps sediment, new shoots spring up from underground stems. “It catches good and it starts walking out,” Osborn said.Grass also gets planted along other parts of the shoreline. At one spot, a few lines of grass run alongside the bank for about 20 or 30 yards (18 to 27 meters). One of last year’s hurricanes — either Laura or Delta — pulled out a wide swath of grass behind the scraggly row.Osborn said the company also has plugged at least 15 of the many canals created by oil companies as shortcuts through the marsh. Oil companies that wanted to work in the area plugged some of them as part of their contracts, he said.Marsh restoration around Avery Island has the added benefit of helping protect cities and towns to the north, said Mark Shirley of Louisiana Sea Grant. “Storm surge and hurricane protection is directly related to the marshland between you and the Gulf of Mexico,” he said.After a decade or more of leading a summer 4-H class called Marsh Maneuvers, Shirley is intimately familiar with the planting process. In one day, a crew of 16 high-school students pulls up enough clumps of grass from a healthy area to fill two flatboats, then plants the grass along a shoreline or canal mouth.“After a year or so, each small clump has multiplied 10 or 12 times and you have an acre or two of grass,” he said.Multiply that by four classes each summer, plus other groups, and it adds up.It takes about a decade for a canal to fill in completely, said Heath Romero, McIlhenny Co.’s land manager.The family also played a big part in creating the Rainey Conservation Alliance to foster larger wetland restoration and coastal protection projects across 187,000 acres (75,700 hectares) in St. Mary, Iberia and Vermilion parishes. Neighboring private landowners and the Audubon Society are the group’s other members.They have rounded up at least $80 million in grants — from $1.3 million in state surplus money for extending a shoreline protection project to $24.9 million for replacing more than 400 acres (162 hectares) of marsh killed by saltwater intrusion and restoring freshwater flow.A demonstration project designed to protect 4,000 acres (1,600 hectares) created skinny terraced ridges 5 to 6 feet (1.5 to 1.8 meters) high — up to double the standard height. Some were planted with trees, others prepared as rookeries for seabirds and wading birds.When Hurricane Barry hit three months after the project’s completion in 2019, the marsh behind the terraces was undamaged, according to a report commissioned by Audubon Louisiana, which owns some of the wetlands.“Those (ridges) are expected to last between 50 and 100 years,” rather than 20 or so, said Erik Johnson, the state organization’s director of bird conservation.The alliance is based on the idea that “what’s good for our neighborhood is good for me,” said John Foret, who worked with the group as a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration employee when it was formed in 2010 and became its executive director in October.Osborn said there’s more to wetlands restoration than protecting a five-generation family business. “My family understands that the land has been very good to us and it’s our duty to honor, respect and preserve it,” he said.———Follow Janet McConnaughey on Twitter: @JanetMcCinNO