More on Patuxent Closure

Last week we told you the Whooping crane propagation program at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center will be closing this year. We also said we would keep you informed when we learned more.

Patuxent’s Director John B. French, Jr., Ph.D. has released the following fact sheet:

FACT SHEET  –  14 July 2017

Closure of the Whooping Crane Propagation Program at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center 

Background:  Fifty years ago USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center initiated the North American effort to breed endangered Whooping Cranes (Grus americana) in captivity, and together with many partners over the years, developed a comprehensive program for Whooping Crane conservation. Patuxent has been a leader in that effort ever since, and the program has become an example of endangered species conservation and recovery known world-wide.  Whooping cranes are still endangered, but the overall population has grown more than 10-fold in that period.

The Whooping Crane Propagation Program at Patuxent will close in FY18 and birds will be moved to other institutions.  Several factors contribute to that decision including that propagation for release does not fit easily in our current research mission, and USGS will focus limited resources on filling gaps of information for species at risk that are not well studied.  Closure of the propagation program will present some challenges for the many partners who are now involved with Whooping Crane reintroduction’s.

Actions:  The proper disposition of approximately 75 Whooping Cranes now in Patuxent’s care will require time and resources to accomplish.  Breeding Whooping Cranes at Patuxent will be sent to other captive breeding centers, hence will not be lost to the program, but there likely will be a disruption of reproduction in those birds for the 2018 season and beyond. The disposition of cranes now in Patuxent’s care will follow the recommendations of the Species Survival Plan (SSP) for the captive flock. The SSP is a formal set of procedures that allow all captive WCs to be managed as a single population, no matter where they are housed.  The considerable expertise among Patuxent staff, ranging from animal husbandry to reintroduction methodologies to results of scientific studies, will be available for consultation and training to make the transition as effective as possible.

Conservation impact:  Whooping Crane captive breeding for reintroduction in North America is one part of the strategy for conservation and restoration of the species.  That strategy is guided by a joint US/Canada International Recovery Team as described in the Whooping Crane Recovery Plan.  The impact of closing the Whooping Crane Propagation Program at Patuxent may be to slow the rate of production of chicks for reintroduction of Whooping Cranes, at least temporarily.  In the long term, we foresee no detrimental impact on whooping crane production in captivity and we expect that conservation actions that benefit the growth Whooping Crane numbers will continue.  


John B. French, Jr., Ph.D.                               


Patuxent Wildlife Research Center                                                            

(301) 497-5502


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  1. Sally Seyal July 16, 2017 11:13 am

    It makes no sense to me to close the most knowledgeable leading program in the crane restoration community! They even admit it will have adverse effects and they don’t know for how long. Is there anything we can to save this program and reverse this decision?

  2. Ann Kimball July 16, 2017 12:32 am

    That statement does not even pretend to have science behind this decision. The director basically said he knows this action will be bad for the WC, but, oh well. Too bad, so sad. Not his circus anymore, not their mission. So just what is their mission? Apparently research, without action. Worthless. Another example of political policy wildlife apocalypse at work. I see no reason to continue to fund his agency or position.

  3. Dorothy N July 16, 2017 12:17 am

    All I can say is the closure is the result of misguided priorities — saving money over saving the earth and its amazing creatures.

  4. Robert W. Stewart July 15, 2017 9:07 pm

    As a Canadian retired wildlife biologist the underlying message I take away from all this is that we Canadians can no longer trust Americans to do the “right” thing. The way events are unfolding in the US it may be more than just whooping cranes. I don’t want to be impolite but maybe Americans need to give their heads a shake.

  5. Mindy July 15, 2017 12:51 pm

    My very first thought was HMPFT!!! But then I thought that I just want to thank you Heather for letting us know and keeping us in the loop. I don’t understand the thinking but nothing we can do about it…..sigh

  6. Frederick Wasti July 15, 2017 10:30 am

    Well, elections have consequences…

  7. Mary Lee Johns July 14, 2017 11:49 pm

    Why can’t a coalition of partners take over the entirety of the operation . . . staff, birds, expertise? Move USGS elsewhere . . . down the street, across the state, or to some other point of compatible USGS operations.

  8. Luella Frank July 14, 2017 11:43 pm

    I don’t understand. First eliminate ultralights, now this…sigh…can someone please explain what us happening to the whooping cranes? I cannot wrap my thoughts around all of this.

  9. Barb July 14, 2017 9:31 pm

    The last two sentences of “the conservation impact” make absolutely no sense. I think that Dr. French, Jr. speakes political lingo like a pro. Lots of words… very little content. *************************** Don’t these people know that they are playing games with living creatures’ lives and their futures? Without a population that is sustainable with our help, even small errors in judgements or lack of action will mean disaster for the Whooping Cranes. Just look at last year as an example. How many of the chicks released on their own even survived to fly South compared to the survival rate when OM was in flying mode? We would not have Condors today if these same tactics were used in bringing them back from the brink of extinction.

  10. Susanne Shrader July 14, 2017 5:44 pm

    Joe, do you believe what they’re saying is possible?

  11. Elaine July 14, 2017 4:06 pm

    I wonder what the role of Operation Migration will be when these new changes are implemented.

  12. Anna osbornn July 14, 2017 2:03 pm

    Thank you for all your amazing past successes. Good luck with the new plan. We must help you preserve this species because a world without whooping cranes would be greatly diminished.

  13. Patti Hakanson July 14, 2017 1:53 pm

    Are these people-on crack???? ALL this hard work, first the loss of migration/OM, and now-this??? :(..No words….