By Karin Brulliard September 18
Each spring for 12 years, Paula Wang began a temporary position at a government lab in a suburb north of Washington. She was required to remain silent while working and to wear a white suit and hood. The mission was not top-secret, but Wang felt it was urgent all the same; she had to save an endangered species.
Wang was a volunteer in the job, which involved using puppets to feed newborn whooping cranes, one of North America's largest and rarest birds. As the chicks grew closer to their eventual five-foot height, she would escort them on walks and swims. The goal was to make the birds strong but not used to humans; to make them able to survive in the wild, even if they did not come from it.
This effort took place at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Md., which for 51 years has been the epicenter of a slow-going effort to rescue the snow-hued cranes from the precipice of extinction by breeding and training birds for release. It's viewed as a model of wildlife conservation, as well as of the sometimes odd approaches such a mission can take.