Being honoured for its efforts to restore the once critically endangered whooping crane to the wild is a true feather in the cap for the Calgary Zoo, officials say.

The zoo is being recognized, alongside several partner agencies, for its work rescuing the once nearly extinct whooping crane and its efforts to re-establish the bird’s wild population with the 2016 North American Conservation Award from The Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

By 1944, whooping cranes were on the brink, with a mere 21 left in the wild as their wetland habitats began disappearing.

The Calgary Zoo, partnering with the International Crane Foundation, San Antonio Zoo and Audubon Nature Institute, have helped restore the wild population to about 450, with another 150 in captivity, in conservation sanctuaries including its own Devonian Wildlife Conservation Centre just south of the city.

Jamie Dorgan, the zoo’s director of animal care, said the honour is a source of pride, as conservation is the facility’s primary mission.

“We’re pretty proud of it, for sure,” he said.

“It’s what we’re here for, ultimately. Everything we do is to try to help the conservation programs.”

In April, the grandchick of one of Calgary’s breeding birds become the first whooping crane to hatch in Louisiana since 1939, a historic marker as the population tries to establish itself in the southern U.S. For now, the most stable wild population of whooping cranes continues to live in Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Alberta.

Clement Lanthier, president and CEO of the Calgary Zoo, said the recognition shows the hard work being done is worthwhile.

“We are delighted to receive the North American Conservation Award with our esteemed partners from the United States,” he said.

“We are proud that decades of collaborations in captive-breeding and innovative conservation science have made such a difference for the recovery of whooping cranes in the wild.

“We remain committed to reintroduction of this species, and many others that need our help.”

While the rebound of the whooping crane has created hope, Dorgan said there’s still work to be done before conservation efforts for the bird can wind down.

“We’re not done yet — I think we’re a ways off for whooping cranes,” he said.

“We’re definitely going to want to see a few more stable populations (in the wild) before we say they’re not endangered anymore.”


Source: Calgary Herald

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