National Geographic : 2010 Jun
• Still, whoopers, as they're called, aren't nearly as bad o as they once were. A key event in their revival took place 42 years ago, when CWS biol- ogist Ernie Kuyt went on a spring treasure hunt. A helicopter let him off on the soggy boreal landscape, a vast expanse of sedge meadow and ponds broken up by islands of black spruce and willow. Using a jack pine pole as a sta , he trudged through muck that might have stolen his resolve---and his boots. At the heart of a shal- low pool, he spied a massive nest cradling a pair of blotchy eggs, each the size of an Idaho potato. Kuyt had le his container in the copter, so he tucked a sole egg into a wool sock, sensitive to the weight of the future life---and the possible salvation of a species---he'd carry home. Kuyt's excursion marked a major step in the now decades-long effort to save the whoop- ing crane, begun by the National Audubon Society's Robert Porter Allen and others in the 1940s. e egg in Kuyt's sock helped seed the captive-breeding program that is crucial to the species' rescue. Multiple ocks once crisscrossed the continent, but numbers fell drastically in the mid-1800s as settlers converted wetlands to BY JENNIFER S. HOLLAND PHOTOGRAPHS BY KLAUS NIGGE Nearly grazing the treetops, a tiny red plane swoops in dizzying circles over the bogs and forests of Canada's Wood Buffalo National Park. Jennifer S. Holland is a senior sta writer. Klaus Nigge photographed the endangered Philippine eagle for the February 2008 issue of the magazine. As pilot Jim Bredy banks hard for another pass, he and his two passengers press their faces against the glass, squinting to spot familiar white smudges on the ground---adult whooping cranes---with russet-feathered young in tow. is wilderness is the summer home of the last wild migratory ock of Earth's most endangered crane. e aerial census takers are Bredy, Tom Stehn of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Lea Craig-Moore of the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS), and they're worried. e ock's popula- tion had reached 266 in the spring of 2008. But by the following spring, 57 had died, 23 of them on the birds' wintering grounds in south Texas, where drought had decimated their main food--- blue crabs and a plant called wol erry. Others probably perished during migration, o en a er striking power lines, the biggest known killer along the yway. e higher-than-average death count has added urgency to a new e ort that tracks some migrating birds with GPS anklets.