LAFAYETTE — The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has launched a public education campaign to safeguard rare whooping cranes that have been reintroduced in south Louisiana.
Radio spots and billboards are set to roll out in the coming weeks, and the agency has developed a program to teach schoolchildren about the birds, Wildlife and Fisheries officials announced Monday.
Wildlife and Fisheries officials have been working with federal officials to re-establish a population of endangered whooping cranes in the state, and 26 of the birds were released in two groups last year at the White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area in Vermilion Parish.
Sixteen of those birds are known to still be alive said Sara Zimorski, a biologist with Wildlife and Fisheries.
Bird deaths were expected, considering the endangered animals have to fend for themselves in the wild, Zimorski said.
She said one bird was euthanized because of illness, two are missing and presumed dead, and seven have been confirmed dead: two of those believed to have been shot and killed by two juveniles last year in Jefferson Davis Parish.
The outreach effort is in part a response to those shootings, Zimorski said.
“It just sort of made us realize we needed to get the word out,” she said.
The outreach program is also something the agency had hoped to do earlier but did not have the money to pay for it, Wildlife and Fisheries spokesman Bo Boehringer said.
The program is funded with a $125,000 grant from Chevron, he said.
One component of the program is the development of lesson plans to teach middle school and high schools students about whooping cranes and the reintroduction program.
Billboards and radio spots will be focused on southwest Louisiana and will work to educate residents about the crane reintroduction program, advise folks to keep their distance from the birds and urge people to report anyone causing harm to the cranes, Boehringer said.
It is critical the birds do not become accustomed to human contact, he said.
“That fear of humans, that is a self-defense mechanism,” Boehringer said.
The whooping cranes should be easy to identify, at least up close, because a mature bird can stand 5 feet and have a wingspan of up to 8 feet.
Of the 16 surviving birds, eight have remained in the White Lake area and the other eight have spread out across south Louisiana, Zimorski said.
The birds, outfitted with transmitters, have been tracked in Avoyelles, Evangeline, Allen, Calcasieu, Jefferson Davis, Acadia, St. Martin, Iberia, Cameron and West Feliciana parishes, according to information from Wildlife and Fisheries.
More young cranes are set for delivery at White Lake later this year, Zimorski said.
White Lake is the same area where the last known whooping cranes were documented in Louisiana in the 1940s.
The birds are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act and other federal and state laws.
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