The Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden is now home to two whooping cranes, one of the largest native bird species in the United States! With wingspans up to 7.5 feet, whooping cranes have extremely long legs and can stand up to 5 feet tall. The birds, McFuzz, a 25-year-old male, and Susan, a 30-year-old female, are located at the Oklahoma Trails habitat.
Whooping cranes spend cooler months along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico in regions of Texas, Louisiana and Florida. During the warmer months, they migrate to the northern United States and parts of Canada. The species’ annual migratory journey includes Oklahoma.
The Freeport-McMoran Audubon Species Survival Center (FMASCC) in New Orleans was the previous home to the two whooping cranes now at the OKC Zoo. The circumstances leading to their arrival here are a bit complex. It started in Maryland where the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center’s long-time Crane Conservation Program ended due to funding cuts. This triggered an international partnership between Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited facilities and other wildlife conservation organizations to relocate more than 75 cranes from the center. Some of the birds even made the journey to their new homes aboard a US Coast Guard Hercules C-130 plane. The FMASCC in New Orleans is now home to a breeding flock from Maryland. Caretakers wanted to find a new home for the two non-breeding birds. And so they did at the Oklahoma City Zoo.
Whooping cranes are listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as endangered because of its small population. Starting at the end of the 1800s and early 1900s, habitat loss and hunting had a drastic effect on reducing the whooping crane population, reaching a low of 14 animals in 1941. Conservationists began working with local, federal and international governments to protect the remaining flock and encourage breeding. Those efforts slowly paid off and currently more than 600 birds exist worldwide.