Whooping crane shooting survivor recovering at LSU

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A whooping crane hit by a shotgun blast last week in Jefferson Davis Parish is recovering at Louisiana State University after 5½ hours of surgery on its left wing.

Pellets shattered two long bones in the bird’s left wing, veterinary school spokeswoman Ginger Guttner said in an email Tuesday.

“We don’t know at this time whether or not the bird will be able to fly again. We take it a day at a time,” she wrote.

Whooping cranes are among the world’s largest and rarest birds. Only about 600 are alive, all descended from 15 that lived in coastal Texas in the 1940s. They are protected under state and federal laws.

Fifty have been banded, tagged with radio transmitters and released in southwest Louisiana since early 2011 in an attempt to create a flock like those that once lived in the area. The wounded male is among 32 still alive, and is the only survivor of the first group of 10.

Whoever shot him near the town of Roanoke killed his mate. They were the only birds that had formed a mating bond last year, though they were too young to produce eggs.

Biologists believe the birds were shot Thursday. They were found Friday; the male was brought to the veterinary school and underwent surgery Saturday.

Guttner said biologists from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries are helping care for him.

“These cranes are a high stress species, and therefore the rehabilitation process is challenging,” she wrote.

She described the injury as a “comminuted fracture of the humerus and radius.” The humerus is the thick bone extending from the shoulder. The radius is the smaller of two long bones in the next section of the wing.

“The main concern now is to control infection and make sure he eats well,” Guttner wrote.

It will be at least six to eight weeks before any chance of a flight evaluation, “and that is optimistic,” she said. “There is a lot of healing time and rehab ahead.”