Five whooping cranes killed in two months

Disturbing news coming from Georgia and Alabama where five whooping cranes have been found shot to death since Dec. 30. That’s a total of six killed by poachers from the nation’s eastern flock in about 15 months.

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Five endangered whooping cranes have been found shot to death in less than two months in Georgia and Alabama.

My first responses were shock and disgust. There can be no even remotely legitimate reason other than cold-blooded poaching.

The birds aren’t known to be edible so it’s not like someone was shooting them to survive.

They look nothing like any game bird in that region so it can’t even be blamed on a mistaken identity.

And there’s no way in heck they were any kind of threat to someone’s life, pet, livestock or property.

And six killed amid three seperate shooting incidents?

Come on, we’ve had two shot and mortally wounded in Kansas in modern history. That was a few years ago on opening day of sandhill crane and goose season west of the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. The hunters turned poachers said they mistook them for sandhill cranes coming out of the sun.

That’s a reason but not an excuse. They fired well before legal shooting time and one of the main rules of hunting is to be sure of your target or don’t fire. The guys got caught, admitted they were in the wrong and paid some hefty penalties – which they deserved. Every goose and sandhill crane hunter I know supported the .

Still, five in less than two months? Whooping cranes migrate through Kansas in much higher numbers and pass within shotgun range of many waterfowl hunters and nothing bad happens.

I can think of twice when I’ve had whoopers pass within 25 years while hunting. Buddies have had them land in their duck and goose decoys several times through the years.  Trust me, we were as fascinated by the big birds as any birder would have been had they been in our place. Shooting at them, and they’d have been easy targets, never, ever, entered our minds.

And now so many have been killed in so little time. Wow. Hopefully the reward money being offered will help bring the poachers to justice. Federal game wardens are incredibly good at what they do, too.

But I wonder if people see the Georgia and Alabama killings as seriously as they did the two shot near Quivira? Back then I was bombarded by calls and e-mails from frustrated people for at least two weeks after the shootings. Some honestly suggested the Kansas poachers get life in prison or worse.  One woman screamed at me over the phone because I wouldn’t give her the names and addresses of the poachers.

We lose whooping cranes every year to a variety of causes. Twenty or so died along the Gulf Coast a winter or two ago because of habitat issues. Coyotes, powerlines, sickness and eagles surely account for more than six per year.

But six killed for no apparent reason at three different locations. That’s all just so very wrong.

I really don’t understand it.