Fish and Wildlife Service reports that Wade Bennett of Cayuga, Indiana pled guilty and was sentenced for his involvement in the shooting of a whooping crane in Vermillion County, Indiana. He and a juvenile received probation, fines and fees for their involvement in the shooting of the crane.
The slain crane was considered the most important bird in Operation Migration, the program designed to reintroduce a migrating population of whooping cranes to the eastern United States. Identified by a leg band, she was known as the “matriarch” of the reintroduction program, mothering the first whooping crane chick successfully hatched (in 2006) and fledged by reintroduced cranes raised in captivity.
In early spring 2010, a citizen came forward with information concerning the shooting of the crane that – almost a year and a half later – would prove key to helping investigators solve the mystery. Observations reported by the public play a key role in solving wildlife crime, says USFWS Special Agent Buddy Shapp. “People who live in an area notice details that can tell us a lot,” Shapp said. “They sometimes see something or hear something that strikes them as unusual but not necessarily criminal. People might not realize that their observation is significant.”
Defenders of Wildlife joined the Indiana Turn in a Poacher Program and other conservation partners in matching the original USFWS $2,500 reward, bringing the citizen reward to almost $10,000 for this key information.
“People who live in an area notice details that can tell us a lot. They sometimes see something or hear something that strikes them as unusual but not necessarily criminal. People might not realize that their observation is significant.”
Few species have been closer to the cliff of extinction than whooping cranes. In the middle of the 19th century, an estimated 1,400 of these birds were found throughout North America. But by 1942, due largely to hunting and habitat loss from farming and development, only 15 were left, and the birds had entirely disappeared east of the Mississippi. Habitat destruction is a major threat to these unique birds – the wetlands the birds rely on have been drained, filled and gobbled up from the time of the early settlers to today’s developers.
At this point in their recovery, each bird counts. Dr. John French, of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, and a member of the US-Canada Whooping Crane Recovery Team said, “With fewer than 400 whooping cranes in the wild, every bird is important in our efforts to keep this species from extinction, and this particular bird was extremely valuable to the recovery program: this unnecessary killing is a setback. It is encouraging there are so many citizens across the country who continue to champion the whooping crane recovery and can help prevent this from happening again.”
Defenders is dedicated to helping whooping crane populations recover. Read more about our efforts to bring these unique birds back to Louisiana.