Yesterday, Colleen Chase, Joe Duff and I traveled from St. Marks to Orlando, FL and along the way we decided to stop at the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park to pay a visit to Whooping crane 5-01 (now named Levi) and his friend Peepers.
Here’s a photo of the two together yesterday and below the photo is their story…
(Originally published July, 2011)
Whooping crane 5-01/Romeo/Levi had been searching for love since 2007 when his first mate was predated in Hernando County, Florida. He succeeded in finding another only to lose her to a bobcat. Perhaps because he had lost two loves to predators or because there weren’t a lot of available females of his kind; for whatever reason, this unlucky-in-love male Whooping crane – a member of the first-ever ultralight-led cohort from 2001, decided to select a pretty little female Whooper named Peepers as his eventual soul mate.
Peepers was safe from wild predators so the chances of him losing her were slim. Peepers was one of two captive Whooping cranes that resided at the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. She shared her space with a male whooping crane named Rocky but theirs was a purely platonic relationship. Whereas 5-01/Romeo/Levi had other intentions.
Six times in the past few years, our lovelorn male crane has flown to the park to visit Peepers in her enclosure. And six times his visits ended with him being crated and transported away. Not the happy ending he had been seeking.
In spring 2007, a few weeks after his first mate was found dead, 5-01/Romeo/Levi paid his first visit to Peepers, much to the surprise of the staff at the Park in Citrus County. Costumed handlers, who were nearby monitoring the newest cohort of ultra-cranes were called in to remove him so that he would continue to migrate with the rest of the Eastern Migratory Population. They released him in Pasco County and the next day he returned to Peepers.
He was captured again and this time driven to the Hiwassee State Wildlife Area in southeast Tennessee. Later that spring, he returned to Wisconsin to summer and migrated south to Florida the next fall. In the spring months of 2008, 5-01/Romeo/Levi met a new lady crane and on at least two occasions, over the next two years, he brought her to the Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park to also visit Peepers. In the spring of 2010 a bobcat predated his second love.
Again he returned alone to Wisconsin to spend the summer and migrated back to Florida last fall – by himself – and promptly stopped in to visit his girl Peepers.
What to do with a tenacious-in-love Whooping crane who refuses to leave his captive love? After much consideration and weighing of options, the tough decision was made to pull him from the migratory population and allow him to stay with Peepers.
But what to do with Rocky – Peepers’ buddy with whom she shared her enclosure? You see, Rocky had a condition which made it difficult for him to vocalize and produce unison calls – and that is how Whooping cranes and other crane species reinforce pair bonds. 5-01/Romeo/Levi was a professional unison caller as evidenced by the two previous loves he had wooed and then lost.
The Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington D.C had been on the waiting list of facilities approved for an educational Whooping crane but needed more time to get their display ready. Officials at Homosassa Park agreed to keep all three Whooping cranes until the National Zoo was ready to receive their newest resident Rocky.
Park staff divided the Whooping crane exhibit and kept Rocky and Peepers together on one side and placed 5-01/Romeo/Levi, who will from now on, officially be known as Levi, on the other side. Too much change at once can cause displaced aggression.
A few weeks ago, Rocky made the trip to the nation’s capital. A few days ago, Levi made the trip through the gate, to at last be with his love Peepers.