NEW ORLEANS — A hunter in northwest Louisiana has shot and killed one of the first whooping cranes brought to Louisiana in an attempt to re-establish the highly endangered species in the state.
State and federal authorities are offering a $3,000 reward for information about whoever killed one of the world’s rarest birds. There are only about 600 alive.
One clue is that a somewhat unusual cartridge was used to shoot the 3-year-old female crane.
Gabe Giffin, a Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries enforcement division spokesman, says the National Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, Ore., analyzed a plastic fragment found in the bullet’s track. He says scientists believe it came from a .264-caliber or 6.5mm bullet with a polymer tip.
“That’s not the only thing we’re hoping on. But we can hopefully get some information on our tip hotline because of that,” he said Monday.
About 412 whooping cranes live in the wild and about 200 in captivity. This one was among 10 released in March 2011, when federal and state authorities began trying to build a self-sustaining flock in southwest Louisiana. Forty have been released in all. Twenty-five are still alive.
“The shooting of this whooping crane is an insult to all law abiding hunters. We ask the public to please share any information that will lead us to the shooter,” said Luis Santiago, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agent in charge for the Southeast Region.
Giffin said the plastic fragment was found during necropsy at the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wis.
Scientists in Madison are still trying to learn the cause of a younger whooper’s death in May, said Robert Love, administrator of Wildlife and Fisheries’ coastal and nongame resources division. That bird was emaciated but apparently died of natural causes, he said. It was in a group of three; when it didn’t move on with the other two, biologists went looking for it.
Based on data from the older bird’s GPS tracker, investigators believe it was shot between April 10 and April 14. The body was found April 16, about two miles northwest of Loggy Bayou in Red River Parish — the spot where the last GPS transmission was made April 14. The last movements tracked were nearby on April 10.