Citizen Tip Leads to Closure of Whooping Crane Shooting in Indiana

Whooping CranesThe Midwest Region External Affairs Office of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) issued a press release late yesterday describing the arrest and conviction of two persons who killed a whooping crane.

The release included this photo taken by Steve Gifford of a Whooping crane pair near the Patokah River National Wildlife Refuge in Indiana as they migrated south.

A tip from a local citizen led to identifying the individual who shot female Whooping crane #217 in Vermillion County, Indiana in 2009.
The crane killed by the shooter was the matriarch of the reintroduced Eastern Migratory Population who, in 2006, with her mate #211, produced, hatched and fledged the first wild, migratory Whooping crane chick (Wild1-06) in the U.S. in more than a century.
Wade Bennett and a juvenile of Cayuga, IN pled guilty and were charged and sentenced on March 30, 2011. Both received probation, and were assessed fines and fees for their involvement in the shooting of the crane.

Law enforcement agents with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources investigated the shooting of the crane. The crane, last observed alive by an International Crane Foundation (ICF) staff member on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2009, was found dead by an ICF volunteer found on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2009, in rural Vermillion County, Ind.

In early spring 2010, a citizen came forward with information concerning the shooting of the crane. The citizen’s information was valuable to investigators during subsequent interviews of Bennett and the juvenile. Both Bennett and the juvenile confessed to their involvement in the shooting of the Whooping crane.

Observations reported by the public play a key role in solving wildlife crime, according to USFWS Special Agent Buddy Shapp. “People who live in an area notice details that can tell us a lot,” Shapp said. “They sometimes see something or hear something that strikes them as unusual but not necessarily criminal. People might not realize that their observation is significant.

Whooping cranes face monumental challenges in the wild; mortality due to predators and disease, and the threat of continued habitat loss. “The senseless killing of a Whooping crane by a human hand is inexcusable and entirely preventable,” notes Dr. John French, of the US Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, and a member of the US-Canada Whooping Crane Recovery Team.

With fewer than 400 Whooping cranes in the wild, every bird is important in our efforts to keep this species from extinction. This particular bird was extremely valuable to the recovery program and this unnecessary killing is a setback. It is encouraging there are so many citizens across country who continue to champion the whooping crane recovery, and can help prevent this from happening again,” said French.

In addition to the Endangered Species Act, whooping cranes are protected by state laws and the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Visit the web site to learn more about USFWS wildlife conservation efforts.