Tom Stehn's Report: 571 and Farewell
May 13, 2011
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Thank you, Tom Stehn USFWS Whooping Crane Coordinator

Dear Journey North,

The latest tally of every whooping crane alive today in the wild and in captivity is 571. Additional chicks are currently hatching in Wisconsin and at the captive centers.

This number (571) is a reason to celebrate compared to the all-time low that occurred in 1941 when only 21 whooping cranes (15 migratory + 6 non-migratory) were in existence. What a comeback for a magnificent species!

This is also a number to fear, since most experts studying small populations stress that at least 5,000 individuals are needed to save a species from extinction.

How long will it take for there to be 5,000 whooping cranes? If the whooping cranes continue to increase, we expect it will take another 30 years for the Aransas flock wintering in Texas (currently at 279) to reach 1,000 birds. During those 30 years, sea level rise and coastal development of housing may limit the amount of salt marshes available for whooping cranes to survive in. That is why biologists are working very hard to try to establish additional whooping crane populations in North America, with ongoing reintroductions in Wisconsin and Louisiana.

Only time will tell if those reintroductions will be successful. You'll be able to follow this struggle for existence for the rest of your lives. And hopefully someday you'll be able to say: "I remember when there were only 571 whooping cranes alive."

Tom Stehn, Whooping Crane Coordinator
Aransas National Wildlife Refuge
Austwell, Texas