At the last count, there were only 36 wild whooping cranes in existence—and their existence is precarious at best. But to insure the preservation of North America's tallest and rarest bird in some form, George Douglass, superintendent of the Audubon Park Zoo in New Orleans, has been patiently trying over the last decade to raise a captive flock. Here, pictured for the first time en famille, are the four whoopers he has succeeded in raising, along with their whooping parents.
Breeder Douglass started his flock with Josephine and Crip, two wild birds that had been wounded by hunters. But for four years Jo and Crip refused to mate. Then in 1955 Jo at last laid an egg. Recording the great event for posterity, a television cameraman ventured too near, Jo's startled mate stepped on the egg in fright and broke it. The next year Jo hatched two chicks, only to have one disappear and the other die. A year later two chicks were hatched and, marvelously, survived. They were joined by another in 1958, to bring the flock to five. A lean year followed in 1959 as Jo and Crip once again refused to mate. In 1960 two chicks were hatched but died. Then this spring Jo presented Crip (and Douglass) with a fourth frisky youngster, which is now kept under 24-hour watch.
While admiring Douglass' feat, some ornithologists feel the only place for whoopers is in their natural habitat. But many others agree with Douglass that captive cranes are better than no cranes at all. Says he, "The chief necessity is the preservation of these wonderful birds."