In 2001, an organization called Operation Migration began its efforts to reintroduce the whooping crane back into parts of the North American continent. In the 1940s, the birds were in deep trouble. In fact, at that time there were only 15 whooping cranes left in the entire world. Overhunting and habitat destruction all but wiped the birds out. Today, thanks in no small part to conservation efforts like Operation Migration, there are almost 500 surviving cranes.
Southern Company partners with organizations in an effort to improve the environment and make sure that the Southeast remains a desirable, healthy and ecologically diverse place to live. Southern Company has supported Operation Migration since 2008, and the company believes that programs like this are an excellent way for people to connect with and understand the planet we share, as well as to identify ways in which we can all work together to protect and coexist with a variety of species.
Perhaps the most intriguing part of Operation Migration is the method used to “teach” whooping cranes their natural migration route. They use lightweight aircraft to “take point” and fly along with young whooping cranes as they make their way from Wisconsin to a wildlife refuge in Florida. Members of the Operation Migration team, including the organization’s co-founder and CEO, Joe Duff, actually pilot the planes. The goal of Operation Migration is to show young birds the migration route so that they can make the return trip on their own the following spring.
Unfortunately, it appears that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will no longer support Operation Migration, stating that it doesn’t appear that the captive-bred birds have had success reproducing in the wild.
Joe Duff remains positive about the accomplishments his organization has achieved, though, saying in a written statement: “There are no words to express our gratitude to all of those who supported Operation Migration over the last 15 years. We have a hundred birds in the eastern migratory population that would not be there without your efforts and support. They survive, they migrate, they pair, and they are wild.”