National Geographic : 2002 Mar
free-roaming male had been noticed around the cages, but she said that it would likely fly off as we neared. We were unlatching a pen door when a foot-tall figure strolled around the corner. It was the male. I froze to avoid scaring him. No problem. He rushed at Blake in a golden-pouched, tap-dancing fury. He leaped up, grabbed her pants in his beak, and beat her calves with his wings. In my mind already named Raging Bull Grouse-definitely not Chicken-he then did the same to me. He sang, and he danced on our shoes. He shoved past our legs, trying to break into the pen and Oo-loo-woo the captive female. It took forever to squeeze through the door without him. This guy had no intention of going quietly extinct. Don't count your chickens before they are hatched. Some eggs laid in the refuge enclosures went cold and rotten. Nests fell prey to snakes. Chicks just breaking out of shells were overwhelmed by fire ants. Other young disappeared within hours of release. It isn't that the public doesn't care. The problem is that the public hardly knows that Attwater's prairie-chickens exist. Funding for field research and captive breeding therefore stays scarce. Plans to reconnect fragments of coastal grassland habitat gather little momentum. A unique, irreplaceable creation and its elaborate behavior, special adaptations, particular store of genes, and the daybreak beauty it fashions are fading out largely for want of attention. Look closely. Every one of America's plains and prairie grouse has been losing ground as well. Like a lot of people I'm uncomfortable with good-byes. I stand around waving and uttering bland parting phrases when I feel all torn up and my mind is reeling with things left unsaid. I don't want to say so long to Raging Bull, to the shy hen that huddled at the corner of the pen, or to any of their kind. I'm not going to. There is not one reason why Attwater's prairie-chicken need disappear from a nation this grand, so full of innovators, and so willing to offer a hand once its citizens hear a clear call. Here it is: Oo-loo-woo. Why not go join the dance? Last Chances The future of the species basks in warm light at the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, where more than a hundred Attwater's chicks are raised each breeding season. When the chicks are large enough to have a shot at surviving the wild, many are released into either of two sanctuaries-one run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the other by the Nature Conser vancy, which hopes to purchase more potential habitat. Only one to two percent of the released chicks survive the first year, but even this level of success keeps the species from quickly going extinct. It is too late to leave the Attwater's fate to nature. Managers at both reserves must rotate cattle grazing and pre scribed burning to simulate the bison and wildfires that once kept the prairie healthy.