Victoria Cummings of Teachings of the Horse forwarded a link to the New York Times article by Jon Mooallem about Whooping Crane migration:
Ken’s brother sent me a different article about them from his local Florida newspaper. Both describe the incredible journey these birds have made from the brink of extinction, though they are still holding on by a wing and a prayer. Literally. And the wing is an ultralight aircraft.
The Whooping Crane eggs are hatched in the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland, and then the chicks are sent to the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin where they are tended by humans dressed in long white robes who feed them with Whooping Crane puppet heads to prevent the the birds from imprinting on humans. By August, the human “parents” teach them how to fly and prepare them to migrate to southern climes. Whooping Cranes do not migrate instinctively. If the parent cranes are not around to show the chicks the way, or even to go at all, they stay where they are. Mooallem’s article describes the elaborate chain of ultralight planes and volunteers and secret crane hiding places that have been developed to carve the migration track into the birds’ brains. It is only needed once. After that, they get it and fly back in the spring on their own, this time able to fly at higher elevations than the ultralight planes are capable of, and catching the thermals for long distance, low energy soaring.
The author writes about “conservation-reliant species,” which is wildlife reintroduced into its original habitat but that will likely not survive without continued human intervention that caused its near extinction in the first place. We cannot carve out a chunk of habitat and put it aside and then and walk away to pour the congratulatory champagne.
When I read this on-going saga of the cranes and the people who are working so hard to save them, I have to sit back in amazement. These men and women and their families are dedicating their lives to a species that may or may not survive in the long run. The Whooping Cranes are the poster birds for conservation-reliant species.
The words of a woman who once wrote me in response to one of my published articles about nature plague me. She said: “These are the end times,” and mourned on about how wildlife and wild places are disappearing from the earth forever, but also how grateful she was to be of an advanced age because she would be gone before the worst of it.
It was a depressing note. You are a sad woman, I thought, and you’re wrong. In a cleaning frenzy before a house move, I threw the note away. But that sentence is stuck in my brain. If we are now teaching birds to fly and to migrate, if we are creating and maintaining “conservation-reliant species,” I wonder if she might not have a point.
When I hold that dreary thought up against the efforts of these people who dedicate their lives to holding on to a species against all odds of long-term survival, I wonder about the energy behind it. They do not bow to the long term hopelessness or wallow in the very real possibility that the Whooping Cranes will probably never stand on their own again as a species, but plan and organize and sacrifice and every year fly their noisy machines before of a flock of five foot birds to lead them to a tomorrow that might never happen.
Are their efforts are ultimately futile? Or does this dogged refusal to quit signify a dim light in a very dark tunnel that there is something more to the human spirit than ruining everything in its path?