Blank Park Zoo
Blank Park Zoo

International Crane Foundation

Posted on 08/02/2016 at 02:24 PM by Blog Author

This July, I was fortunate enough to spend a few days at the International Crane Foundation (ICF) in Baraboo, Wisconsin, a leader in crane conservation worldwide and a major role-player in the recovery of the Whooping Cranes here in North America. They have about 30 captive Whooping Cranes and raise 10-20 chicks each year for reintroduction into the wild and genetic management of the species. The ICF pioneered costume rearing where chicks are raised by human caretakers in crane costumes to teach them to act like a crane as much as possible and not imprint on humans. Cranes learn everything from their parents including how to eat, drink, bathe, preen, watch for predators, defend themselves, and how to interact with other cranes. While costume-rearing isn't a perfect substitution, it has been an important and essential part of Whooping Crane recovery, and it is an impressive undertaking to see. They've helped take the wild population of Whooping Cranes from about 20 individuals to present numbers of about 400 individuals. 

The ICF exhibits all 15 species of crane - their newer exhibits are large, prairie and wetland enclosures where you can see the cranes foraging, calling, and doing everything else cranes do in a natural environment. Their guided tours and signage emphasize the uniqueness of each species and the ICF's conservation efforts for each species. Helping care for these birds gives you a sense of their uniqueness and their importance on this planet. 

When a pair of critically endangered Siberian Cranes unison call right in front of you, you think how dismaying it would be to lose such an amazing creature; but you are also in awe at the amazing amount of energy and work being spent to save cranes and their habitats worldwide. Wetlands, where many cranes live, are fragile ecosystems, and they are being lost globally, but there are grand endeavors across and within nations to preserve and restore these important places. 

When you see a Whooping crane chick foraging in a pond with his parents and you know he is destined to join a wild flock, further bringing this species back from the brink, you are reminded of the difference one person can make, because the ICF started with just two individuals who had a passion and motivation to conserve crane species worldwide and 45 years later, they are doing just that.

The ICF also participates in some crane SSP's, and they are a collaborator and resource for many zoo's breeding programs. They have decades of experience in crane egg incubation, hatching, chick rearing, and husbandry. I am hoping our bird team at BPZ can utilize some of their advice and techniques in order to grow and improve our crane breeding programs in the future. There are always challenges in conservation and animal care; there are always successes and failures and learning never stops, but with passionate and committed individuals all working together, we can do good things for individuals, for species, for ecosystems, and for the world. 


Megan Stegmeir
Bird and Reptile Keeper
Blank Park Zoo

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