Canus (on the right) stands tall in his pen, challenging the
photographer, Damien. Canus' mate, 02-71001, gives a bowing threat display. Unlike many wild-hatched birds, 02-64001 had no fear of us.
Photo by Damien Ossi, USGS, 2001
Canus was a young-of-the-year chick when he was captured. The injured wing is on his right side, and the misplaced feathers along his back are part of that injured wing.
FWS photo, Monte Vista National
Wildlife Refuge, 1964
Canus was a handsome 2 year old in this picture. He was still in Monte Vista, but would soon be sent to Patuxent.
FWS photo, Monte Vista National
Wildlife Refuge, 1966
Canus seems relaxed in his pen in Monte Vista. Most cranes taken from the wild are extremely nervous and fearful in captivity, but 02-64001 always seemed calm and unafraid.
FWS photo, Monte Vista National
Wildlife Refuge, 1966
1964 - 2003
To anyone who cares about endangered species, information about their numbers is always important. For whoopers, the rarest of all cranes, the annual count has been an environmental
cliff-hanger for decades. In 1938, they were down to only 18 birds in the Aransas-Wood Buffalo flock,
with only 11 remaining in the non-migratory
Louisiana flock. Ten years later there were 31 birds in the Aransas-Wood Buffalo flock, but the
Louisiana flock was down to a single bird. By 1950, the Louisiana flock was gone. The
Aransas-Wood Buffalo flock's numbers hovered on the edge of
disaster for another decade. By 1964, there were still only 42 whooping cranes in the wild.
So, when a biologist doing aerial surveys
in 1964 at Wood Buffalo Provincial Park (in Saskatchewan and Northwest
Territories, Canada) discovered a young-of-the-year chick with a broken wing, he quickly took action. The chick's parents were aggressive, rushing the helicopter when it came too close. The biologist knew that the parents could keep the chick safe from predators, but soon they would have to migrate, and their chick wouldn't be able to follow them. He wouldn't survive long once they were gone.
The biologist contacted officials in Canada and the US, and was advised to capture the bird. They did so the next day, chasing the chick through the marshland until it tripped on its dangling primaries and fell. The young crane, once captured, offered surprisingly little resistance. An x-ray showed a 2
inch sliver of charred wood had pierced the bird's breast muscle and his wing was partially dislocated. They speculated that he had struck a burnt tree during early flight practice. To everyone's surprise, the young crane showed no fear of his captors and readily accepted food including smelt, mealworms, hamburger and minced eggs.
The injured chick was later transferred to Monte Vista
National Wildlife Refuge, Colorado where he did well until he suddenly became ill. Four veterinarians were brought in and treated the bird, who seemed near death. Amazingly, within a day the crane seemed to recover. But his bout of bad luck wasn't over. While exercising in his pen one morning, he caught a toe in the bandage on his injured wing and fell, breaking the wing in two places. Again, the vets repaired the wing and he again recovered. It was shortly afterward that this young crane would be given the name
"Canus" -- CAN for Canada and US for the United States.
In 1966, 02-64001 was transferred to what was then the beginnings of the Fish and Wildlife Service's endangered species captive propagation program at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. 02-64001 was the first whooper in the program, and would become, over his long life, the foundation sire of the captive flock. His adjustment to life in captivity was a major factor in his ability to thrive in this new environment. Unlike many wild-caught animals, he never showed fear of his caretakers, and once he matured, would be quite aggressive to them, especially during breeding season.
His injured wing would eventually be amputated. Without two fully functional wings, 02-64001 could not breed naturally. And so the biologists at Patuxent developed an Artificial Insemination (AI) program so that Canus, and other whooper males who were not fully-flighted, could reproduce. With such small numbers, every individual whooper was genetically valuable.
As Patuxent's endangered species program developed, eggs from Wood Buffalo were brought here to hatch, to develop a captive breeding flock that would genetically represent the wild flock in Aransas. This captive flock would be a safeguard -- a genetic back-up -- in case disaster wiped out the remaining wild birds.
Those early years were devoted to building the breeding flock and learning how to propagate whooping cranes. All the while, the numbers in the wild crept up slowly but surely. In 1966, when 02-64001 came here, there were 43 birds in the wild. In 1976, there were 69. Meanwhile, the scientists at Patuxent were discovering just how much there was to learn about the care, feeding, and propagation of whooping cranes.
All through the growth of Patuxent's breeding flock, the development of proper incubation techniques, the perfecting of AI, the development of health care protocols, nutritional formulas, medical techniques, and chick rearing techniques, 02-64001 was there.
Because he was such a
long-term subject for Patuxent's experiments, he literally taught us much
of what we know about successful husbandry and breeding of captive
He sired chicks with his mate through artificial insemination, and his semen was used
here on many other female whoopers.
It was even shipped, cryogenically preserved, to other facilities with whooping crane females. Over the years, he and his mate raised many chicks
together, and were fiercely protective parents. 02-64001 was surprisingly healthy, after his initial rocky start, but he did have a bout of illness during the
1980s that he recovered from, and in the last five years he had some minor problems due to arthritis in his spine. We moved a panel heater into his pen in the hopes that would
help and it may have, but we never actually saw him use it. He always knew when he was being observed. At the first site of humans approaching his pen, 02-64001 and Mrs. C would start going through their threat displays, letting everyone know that if they were thinking of coming in his pen, there would be trouble!
We first talked about 02-64001 in these reports in
At that time, we were following the progress of a young chick destined to be released in Florida, and 02-64001 was that chick's grandparent. We also talked about some of Canus' offspring
who were now breeding adults in our program such as
02-85001, our most productive pair, and also 02-83004 and 02-83003. Last year, we reported on
Lucky, the first chick to fledge to wild whooper parents in the US in 60 years -- Lucky is a great-grandchild of
Over the course of his long life, 02-64001 was responsible for 186
whoopers, as sire, grand-sire, great-grandsire and beyond. That's four times the number of whoopers who were alive the year he was captured. His descendents today are flying free
from Wisconsin to Florida and reproducing naturally in the wild in Central Florida. Today, there are nearly 420 whooping cranes in the world -- ten times as many as the year he was captured. 02-64001 was no small part of that.
Early in the morning of Saturday, January 18, 02-64001 was found down in his feedshed near his heater. The technicians, Barb and Brian, experienced in emergency crane care, rushed him to the veterinary hospital on Center, and after placing him in a heated pen, contacted both the veterinarian on duty, Dr. Patty Bright, and our regular veterinarian, Dr.
Olsen, who was attending crane meetings in California. In a short time, 02-64001 began to rally, lifting his head, looking around, and even
attempting to stand. 02-64001 was only a few weeks shy of 39 years, and had had other sudden bouts of illness, but had always recovered, so we had hopes that this would follow that pattern. Dr. Bright treated 02-64001 with injectable fluids and steroids, and consulted with Dr. Olsen about an appropriate treatment regimen for the next few days. They decided to also administer antibiotics, and continue fluids and steroids until the bird was well enough for diagnostic blood work, which might tell them more about the nature of the problem.
Unfortunately, despite Canus' attempt to rally, he died during treatment a few hours later. It was a terrible shock to all of us.
In spite of his age, 02-64001 had always fought back against the odds and had always been so
strong-- it was hard to imagine anything defeating him.
To the people who care about the fate of endangered species, the numbers of animals is a natural focus. How few, how many.
For those of us who work with these rare animals, each individual under our care is special, unique to themselves, and valuable. In the course of our daily work, we discover their personalities, their individual quirks, and become totally involved in their welfare and that of their offspring. In many ways, 02-64001 embodied our mission -- he survived against incredible obstacles, thrived, and showed a wonderful spirit
and will to live. Even while we grieve his loss, we have to celebrate the success that was his life. And in the offspring he has left us, he'll live on, both here at Patuxent, and free in the wild.
video about Canus!
Lucky, the whooper who fledged this year to wild parents in central Florida (these birds are part of the non-migratory flock that lives in Florida year round), has separated from his parents and is living on his own. It's normal for young birds to separate from their parents a few months before breeding season. Lucky is associating with wild sandhills and
whoopers, and picking good habitat. He has his own radio transmitter so that the Florida biologists
can keep track of him. He should be almost completely white by now.
The 16 birds who migrated from Wisconsin to Florida behind ultra-light aircraft are enjoying the winter in sunny Florida.
They're doing well, and have been joined by one of last year's birds,
who has been staying with the youngsters since he returned from Wisconsin on his own. The other 4 birds of that
first migration are all doing well. All returned to Florida on their own, picking excellent habitat, and making excellent time in their trip down south.
You can read the entire migration story in detail and see many more photos at:
Operation Migration's website:
and also at the Whooping Crane Eastern
Please check our site on
March 6th for a web page update.
See our Crane Videos!