for National Geographic News
Storms in Florida last week killed all but 1 of the 18 endangered whooping cranes that had recently completed a 1,234-mile (1,985-kilometer) journey from Wisconsin to Florida, escorted by ultralight aircraft.
A single crane that had been presumed dead was found alive on Sunday.
"At least there's one bright spot," said Liz Condie, communications director for Operation Migration, a Canadian nonprofit that has been training cranes to migrate alongside aircraft for the past six years.
(Read related story: "Whooping Cranes, Ultralight Planes Take Flight on Annual Migration" [October 5, 2006].)
The whooping crane is listed as endangered on the U.S. government's endangered species list.
Operation Migration's work is part of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, a team of U.S. and Canadian government agencies and private groups trying to create a new migratory population of the species in the eastern U.S.
The Operation Migration team started with 7 birds in 2001 and has since taught 90 birds the way to their wintering grounds.
The 18 juvenile cranes that formed the migrating group dubbed Class of 2006 arrived in Florida in mid-December.
Researchers have said that at least 125 cranes must survive, breed, and migrate on their own to create a self-sustaining population.
Cranes don't breed until they are five years old, Operation Migration co-founder Joe Duff said, so the loss of a whole generation of cranes will create a significant gap in the population five years from now.
The loss of the cranes was "devastating," Duff said, not only for the birds but for the people who helped the cranes along their route and for the project itself.
Storms Kill 17 Cranes, One Survives
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