San Antonio Zoo treats wounded whooping crane

Sara  Sneath By Sara Sneath

Dec. 23, 2013 at 6:23 a.m.
Updated Dec. 24, 2013 at 6:24 a.m.

An injured whooping crane captured in Lamar is recovering at the San Antonio Zoo.

The 21/2-year-old male whooping crane is missing his left leg and foot, said Wade Harrell, whooping crane recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"The amputated side had started to heal over. Our greater concern was the good foot," Harrell said Monday. "The bird was overcompensating, and it had lesions and wear on the other foot."

He said veterinarians worried the abrasions would open and get infected, which could eventually lead to death.

It is not evident how the leg and foot were injured, but it could have occurred from a predator attempting to grab the bird, Harrell said.

It is also not clear when the injury occurred, he said.

A tracker was attached to the bird in the summer 2012, allowing biologists to track his migration. The crane flew more than 2,000 miles from Wood Buffalo, Canada, arriving in Texas in mid-October, according to a news release from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He was wintering in Lamar, a community in Aransas County across the St. Charles Bay from the refuge.

Harrell said the first good photos he got of the crane's missing foot and leg were in November. Volunteers in Lamar and Harrell kept watch on the bird and noticed a decline in his condition over the fall, he said. A team of veterinarians made the decision to capture the bird after it was determined the crane could not properly feed itself.

The crane was captured Dec. 17 by a team of biologists and driven to the San Antonio Zoo for treatment. The bird is being evaluated by the zoo's veterinarian, said Debbie Rios-Vanskike, a San Antonio Zoo spokeswoman.

"The amputation site seems to be healed over well," she said.

There are three possible outcomes for the bird, Harrell said.

If the crane heals well enough that veterinarians believe he can survive in the wild, he will be released.

If he does not recover well enough, he may be entered into the Whooping Crane captive breeding program, Harrell said.

The San Antonio Zoo is one of five facilities in the United States and Canada that participates in the whooping crane captive breeding program, according to the news release.

If the crane isn't able to recover and is not a good genetic match for the captive population, he will become a display bird at a zoo, Harrell said. He said there are about 10 whooping cranes that serve as display birds in the nation.

Harrell said a prosthetic leg is also being considered for the bird. Prosthetics have worked for other species of cranes, he said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates there are 279 birds in the Aransas-Wood Buffalo population, the only natural wild flock of whooping cranes, according to the news release.

"All of the whooping cranes alive today, both wild and captive, are descendants of the last 15 cranes found wintering at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in 1941," according to the news release.

"The hope is we have a successful outcome for this bird," Harrell said. "That he becomes part of the recovery for this species in one fashion or another."



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