Endangered whooping cranes coming to Vermilion

LAFAYETTE (AP) — A new group of 11 young whooping cranes is scheduled to arrive in Vermilion Parish next month in an ongoing project to re-establish the endangered birds in the south Louisiana marshes where they once thrived.

Since the project began in February 2011, 40 of the rare birds have been released at the state's 71,000-acre White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area, and 23 are alive.

Only one crane survived out of the first group of 10 brought to White Lake, but subsequent releases have been more promising, with 12 of the 16 birds released in late 2011 still flying and 10 of the 14 birds released last year also thriving.

"We have seen much higher survival with our second two cohorts," Sara Zimorski, a biologist with the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries who is helping manage the project, told The Advocate (http://bit.ly/1bvggLV).

Bird deaths were expected.

Natural predators, like bobcats or alligators, will always be a threat in the wild, but three of the birds have been shot.

The state has been doing public outreach to educate residents about the presence of the endangered cranes and the penalties for intentionally killing one.

As for the success of the project, it's still too early to tell, said Wade Harrell, the whooping crane recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The goal is to establish a self-sustaining population of the birds, he said, but it might take eight to 10 years for a mating pair of whooping cranes to reach full productivity.