Whooping Crane shootings – what we know and why it matters - International Crane Foundation

International Crane Foundation


Whooping Crane shootings – what we know and why it matters


Media contact: Lizzie Condon, Whooping Crane Outreach Coordinator, 608-356-9462 ext. 142

Illegal shootings are a major threat to the survival of Endangered Whooping Cranes.  Historically, shootings contributed to the decline of Whooping Cranes to the brink of extinction. People shot Whooping Cranes for the millinery trade, trophy hunting, museum collections, sustenance and recreation. Today, those of us who work in conservation would like to think that we are past the period where people would shoot Whooping Cranes, but sadly this is not so – most recently in July 2018, a man shot a Whooping Crane on private property in Louisiana.

The International Crane Foundation takes this issue seriously. We’ve gathered information about 29 confirmed cases of Whooping Crane shootings since 1967, the year that the Whooping Crane was listed as a federally endangered species. What do these past cases tell us about the problem of Whooping Crane shootings?

The number of Whooping Crane shootings has increased since reintroduction efforts began in the 1990s. Detectability of shooting incidents is likely higher in the reintroduced populations since they are more heavily monitored than the Aransas-Wood Buffalo population. Explanation of abbreviations: LNMP = Louisiana Non-Migratory Population, FNMP = Florida Non-Migratory Population, EMP = Eastern Migratory Population, AWBP = Aransas-Wood Buffalo Population.

Since Whooping Crane reintroductions began in the 1990s, the majority of shooting cases have taken place in reintroduced populations. In cases where the location of a Whooping Crane shooting could be defined as public or private land, twelve shooting cases took place on private land and three took place on public land.

All identified perpetrators were white men with an average age of 27.6. Some of the perpetrators had prior convictions such as a citation for driving under the influence of alcohol. In six cases the perpetrators also conducted concurrent crimes, such as vandalism of property, shooting other non-game wildlife or game wildlife out of season. In multiple cases, alcohol was listed as a possible contributing factor.

In the majority of cases, 71%, Whooping Crane shooting incidents were not related to hunting. In the few cases that involved hunters, the hunters were already in violation of a hunting regulation, such as shooting before legal hunting hours, when poor lighting makes identification difficult. In these cases, one might argue that the person was, in fact, poaching as people who violate hunting regulations are considered poachers.

The International Crane Foundation has taken this information and processed it through the lens of situational crime prevention and routine activity theory. Under this theory, in order for a crime to take place, there must be a suitable target — a motivated offender — and a lack of guardianship of the target. By knocking out one or more factors, a crime cannot occur. After reviewing the 25 common strategies to prevent crimes, we determined that a campaign to raise awareness and pride in the species would address many of the strategies.

Whooping Crane outreach

James Kawlewski and Amber Wilson, Whooping Crane Outreach Program Assistants in Indiana and Alabama, strike a pose with Hope, our Whooping Crane mascot.

We’ve engaged in awareness campaigns for three years in Alabama. And, we’ve started outreach activities in Indiana and Texas.  In addition, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is running an awareness campaign in Louisiana. Our campaigns are based on data from social science surveys conducted by Auburn University, data from Purdue University and information we have gathered on confirmed shooting cases. We are working with state and federal agencies, birders, hunting groups, schools, civic leaders and other local partners to get communities to give a WHOOP about Whooping Cranes. We are combining these campaigns with targeted efforts to educate key figures in the legal system so when Whooping Crane cases appear in court, perpetrators receive an appropriate sentence.

Whooping Crane Outreach

Hillary Chavez, the 2017 Whooping Crane Naturalist Intern, talking to kids and families about Whooping Cranes at a community event in rural Wisconsin.

The winter of 2017-18 was the first winter in 10 years that we did not have a Whooping Crane shooting along the eastern flyway. This is important to note since winter is the most common season for shootings to take place. Our outreach work has helped educate people in both the eastern flyway and in Texas, and we are creating communities that care about Whooping Cranes. This is wonderful news to report, but our work is far from over.

Lizzie CondonStory submitted by Lizzie Condon, International Crane Foundation Whooping Crane Outreach Coordinator