By Betsy Thorpe
On Friday December 5th, the Operation Migration Class of ’08 comprised of fourteen young Whooping Cranes guided by four ultralight aircraft and one top cover Cessna airplane landed at Horse Creek Wildlife Sanctuary and Animal Refuge in Savannah Tennessee one hundred miles west of Nashville.
Operation Migration has played a leading role in the reintroduction of endangered Whooping Cranes into eastern North America since 2001. In the 1940s the species was reduced to just 15 birds. The fourteen cranes in the class of ’08 were hatched in captivity and fostered by human surrogate parents. In nature Whooping Cranes and other waterfowl learn their migration route from their parents. Birds who are raised in captivity will not migrate. This is a particular concern for endangered species. The techniques developed by Operation Migration are thought by many to be the only hope for re-establishing migratory flocks of several endangered species, including eastern North American Whooping Cranes.
The stopover in Savannah Tennessee marked the halfway point in the thirteen hundred mile guided migration from Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin to St. Marks Wildlife Refuge near Tallahassee Florida. Half of the birds will stay at St.Marks for the winter,the others will be lead to the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Reserve on central Florida’s gulf coast. Both flocks will remain in Florida until this coming spring when they will return north, unaided to the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin.
For more information on Operation Migration or to follow the Whooping Cranes guided migratory progress visit http://www.operationmigration.org