Captive Whooping Crane program in Wisconsin \ Photo by Tom Lynn

Cranes play a vital role in the ecosystem. They balance the food supply eating both plants and animals, they are also food for large predators such as foxes, wolves, coyotes, lynxes, bobcats, raccoons, and Golden eagles. Out of the 15 crane species found in the world, 11 are considered threatened or endangered. This threat comes in the form of habitat decline and urban expansion.

In 1973, Ron Sauey and George Archibald founded the International Crane Foundation (ICF) on Sauey’s family farm in Baraboo, Wisconsin where they began to study and breed cranes in captivity. The first of its kind, this foundation grew astronomically and currently provides scientific knowledge and conservation leadership in four different continents around the world.

In most places where the ICF has worked, crane habitat degradation has been caused by human impact. Therefore the ICF has implemented unique methods to crane conservation, which include wetland conservation and providing vital income opportunities to communities that share the space with cranes. They work with native communities to understand local practices and best efforts. In addition, they educate and involve university students in their conservation efforts to allow the spread of scientific knowledge.

Their efforts in Rwanda have introduced locals to sustainable and alternative ways to use wetlands, such as beekeeping. This provides the locals withsustainable income methods that rely on the upkeep of the Rugezi Marsh, the natural habitat for the endangered Grey Crowned Cranes. In doing so, people, landscapes and cranes benefit from these efforts. 

The ICF recognize that the future of conservation relies on educating future generations. In the past year they hosted three sessions of their International Nature School attended by nearly 500 local children, teachers, college students and staff as they explored and tested wetlands in China. Furthermore they provided 20 college students with the opportunity to design and lead a real conservation activity, founding the next generation of “craniacs”.

The ICF estimate that 50 per cent of the Whooping Crane habitat found on the coasts of Texas is at risk due to rising sea levels associated with climate change. Therefore the ICF has used sophisticated mapping techniques to identify and secure healthy long-term coastal habitats to apply conservation protection strategies through easements and purchases. These new habitats will provide new winter homes to Whooping Cranes even in the face of rising sea levels.

Throughout the years, the ICF has maintained their headquarters in Baraboo, Wisconsin and continue to pursue creating multiple self-sustaining flocks of Whooping Cranes in the wild. In the spring of 2014, 54 whooping Crane eggs were laid, the highest number produced in the entire history of the ICF. Chicks Tabasco, Pico de Gallo, Sweet Baby Ray, Honey, Sriracha, and Aioli were the first cohort to join the non-migratory flock in Louisiana. The ICF has grown in leaps and bounds and continues to strengthen its commitment to places and people cranes depend on, one chick at a time.

Support the ICF by visiting their website and following them on Twitter.


Naomi Roy is an artist and a fourth year Planning student at the University of Waterloo. 

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