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Scroll down to find out where Vic is now



Before the start of last year's flight we introduced you briefly to our yet to be named toy Whooping crane - a special stuffed crane that was about to fly along as a backseat passenger on the journey in Joe Duff's backpack. This crane now holds the distinction of having accompanied the first reintroduced migratory flock of real Whooping cranes into eastern North America! We've outfitted him with a backpack of his own, which holds several copies of a small but important message. Our plan is that with assistance from children and adults he will travel around the world, sharing his message and teaching people about Whooping cranes and the importance of safeguarding them from extinction.   

When the team arrived at the final destination in Florida, this crane was delivered to a wonderful volunteer with the Friends of the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, Pat Casselberry. Pat has been taking care of our friend and has finally given him a name suitable for a crane of his distinction: "VIC" our Very Important Crane.  VIC will begin his voyage at 9am on December 20th, 2001 when Pat and other volunteers present him to a group of children at the Environmental Education Center in Crystal River, Florida. 

It is our hope that this crane will spark an interest in children, as well as adults and instill a desire to learn more about not only Whooping cranes but also migration and the importance of preserving wetlands for the species that rely on them.  Then like any migratory bird, this crane will feel the urge to keep moving, so we've requested in the printed message to pass him on to someone else; anyone, anywhere. And to please drop us a note and a photo if possible (email or snail mail) so that we can keep track of our migrating Very Important Crane - VIC. 

Latest News from VIC:

Date: April 12, 2002 Location: Floral City, Florida
Heather and Gang,

VIC is in our school right now!!! Pat Casselberry brought him yesterday when she came to speak to Ms. Snyder's fifth graders and my second graders about the whooping cranes. Of course the timing was perfect, since the northward migration had started. Our kids were so excited to see VIC (what a celebrity!) you would have thought 5 live whooping cranes had just come down the hallway. Pat of course is absolutely wonderful. The way she described the wintering pen and the whoopers behaviors made us feel we were there to see it all in person. The children oooh'd and ahhh'd over the videos and artwork she brought along.

We have introduced VIC to our Floral City Elementary Bullfrogs (students). He is proudly sporting one of our bullfrog pins. He will be visiting the classrooms with pictures and news of the whoopers.

Thank you so much for this opportunity to make our students feel close to all that is going on. Who would think one little guy could cause so much excitement.

Amy Gysan 

Date: Feb. 4, 2002 Location: Academy of Environmental Science
Joe and I had the opportunity to spend some time today with the students at the Academy of Environmental Science. This is the school that initially helped launch VIC on his migration to educate others about the Whooping Crane and the reintroduction project currently underway. 

Joe gave a talk to the students detailing the costume-rearing and imprinting process and showed some of the wing-tip footage captured during last years trek from Wisconsin to Florida. This was the first time that we had a tiny camera actually mounted on the wing of the lead aircraft and there are some amazing crane-in-your-face moments captured as the birds would often surf just inches off the wingtip.

The students then shared with us their own video, produced entirely by them, and featuring VIC, our ambassador for the whoopers. The video details VIC's travels since he arrived at their wonderful education facility and is being used to introduce VIC and his message to other schools in the Crystal River area. There are some very funny moments throughout the production such as when VIC is being interviewed by one of the students, as well as the shot of VIC and his chick-friend Victoria sailing away together on a homemade sailboat but without doubt the best part of this video is VIC's voice, played by Josh Dahling, who by the way, crouched under Ms. Merritt's desk through the entire presentation. It was great fun to see the results of the work that the students have been performing on behalf of the Whooping crane and we can't thank them enough for their efforts. 

We have sent to the students some of the wing-tip video footage for inclusion in their VIC production and there are plans to enter their video into a multi-media competition. Best of luck on your entry and please keep us posted on the results or if there is anything else we can do to help!

Onward & UPward,

Heather Ray

Date: Feb. 1, 2002 Location: Crystal River, FL
VIC spends time with his chick Victoria at the academy
VIC is presented with a little league baseball pin by Cody Ewig in Mrs. Brooks-Walker's class at Rock Crusher Elementary School in Citrus County, FL. Also pictured with VIC is Sharyl
VIC and academy students with Ms. Russell visit Inverness Primary School in Citrus County, FL where they inform them all about the whooping cranes
4: VIC and academy students Josh Dahling, Sharyl Hernandez and Holli Bloom share VIC's story and video with a group of preschool students who are part of the Crystal River High School Child Development Program run by Dana Fields
VIC and academy students explain to Crystal River Primary students how important VIC is and why his message will travel the world. The students also display the artwork from the art exchange program coordinated by the International Crane Foundation.

Date: Jan. 21, 2002 Location: Monteverde, Costa Rica


Recently the Cloud Forest School (Centro de Educacion Creativa) in Monteverde, Costa Rica, enjoyed a visit from "VIC", your special whooping crane, a delightful stuffed ambassador with his backpack full of information about "Operation Migration" designed to reintroduce whooping cranes to Eastern North America.

VIC's visit completed a circle of interest begun a decade ago in our mountaintop community by a visit from Jocelyn and Bill Sladen. As you probably know, Dr. William Sladen is one of the scientists who began work many years ago patterning Canada Geese to teach them migratory flyways looking toward ultimately saving the endangered Trumpeter Swan. Dr. Sladen spoke to our community about that project, and he continues his work today, recently with balloonists carrying the swans over their flyways. There is evidence that the trumpeter swan population is profiting by the several efforts to reestablish this stunning bird.

Some years after the Sladens' visit, the children at the Cloud Forest School watched the popular film "Fly Away Home" and learned of the plight of these exquisite creatures. Now one of our children's former teachers, Kristen Russell, currently on the staff of the Academy of Science in Crystal River, FL, brought your "very important crane" VIC, a major participant in a similar effort to save a glorious endangered migratory bird, to visit the school. Kristen's Academy is located very near the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge where your first group of cranes is wintering. Ours is an environmentally focused school for local Costa Rican children who live surrounded by the beautiful and diverse Monteverde cloud forests. Environmental education is interwoven into their entire curriculum.

We were delighted with VIC's visit and plans for cooperative efforts between the Academy of Environmental Science in Florida and the Cloud Forest School here in Costa Rica. Plans are underway for a first group of students from the Academy to visit us.

We wish you well with "Operation Migration". Please visit us at our website

Sincerely yours,

Jan Drake-Lowther
Founder: Cloud Forest School Foundation

Date: Jan. 8, 2002 Location: Crystal River, Florida
Dear Heather,
I would like to fill you in on the exciting adventures of VIC. I am sending you some pictures that chronicle Vic's activities from when he was awarded to the Academy of Environmental Science (AES) to his journey to Costa Rica and back to the academy:

Pat Casselberry and Takako Hashimoto explain VIC's importance to the AES students on December 20, 2001 and how he will be used to take the Whooping Crane's message throughout the world.

Pat awards VIC to the academy and its Director, Lisa Merritt

VIC spends Christmas at Lisa Merritt's house and enjoys some rest and relaxation to prepare for his big journey.

Lisa Merritt hands VIC to Laura Steepleton, senior class president. Her job is to take suggestions from the academy students as to who will receive VIC next. They decide that since it is Christmas break, that they want VIC to travel to Costa Rica with Kristen Russell to share his knowledge there.

Lisa gives VIC to Kristen Russell so he can share his message to Costa Rican children. She wishes them both a safe and fun trip.



VIC sits in the classroom showing off his new Academy of Environmental Science T-shirt at AES the day before his next flight.

VIC sits in the Monte Verde rainforest in Costa Rica and is having a great time.

Kristen Russell shares VIC with the Costa Rican children.

VIC has now returned to a new group of students at the academy. He will be spending the rest of January visiting the Citrus County primary schools where he will meet many children who will learn of VIC's importance. On Friday, February 1, 2002, the academy students will be presenting VIC to the Homosassa State Wildlife Park where he will meet individuals whose primary concern is the preservation of wildlife. We all wish VIC well.

Lisa Merritt

Thank you Lisa and Kristen, and both the past and present students at AES for helping VIC migrate!

Date: Jan. 4, 2002 Location: Monte Verde, Costa Rica
I just wanted to let you know that I spent a wonderful Christmas in Citrus County and now I'm off to bigger places. The students at the Academy of Environmental Science decided to let me go with their Ecology teacher, Kristen Russell, to Costa Rica. I left December 31 to spend the New Year in Costa Rica, I am having so much fun here educating the people of Costa Rica. I am especially looking forward to visiting the Creative Learning Center in Monte Verde Costa Rica, where Ms. Russell and I will have the chance to talk to the children about Operation Migration.

After my visit to Costa Rica is over, I will be flying back home to Citrus County on January 6. When I get back, my first trip alone will be to Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park. The students at the Academy of Environmental Science decided that would be a great place since the park concentrates on wildlife conservation, and has helped tremendously with endangered animal species. I can't wait to go to the wildlife park, it's going to be great and I know I will have fun educating the public about the greatest operation ever, Operation Migration! 

Hope you have had a wonderful Holiday Season!

Date: Dec. 20, 2001 Location: Academy of Environmental Science, Crystal River, Florida

"VIC the crane flies off on a mission of his own"
By BARBARA BEHRENDT, Times Staff Writer
St. Petersburg Times, published December 21, 2001

CRYSTAL RIVER -- VIC has already logged an impressive 1,223 flying miles tagging along with ultralight pilot Joe Duff of Operation Migration. But unlike the real whooping cranes the program led to Chassahowitzka earlier this month, this Very Important Crane's journey has just begun.

VIC, a stuffed whooping crane toy with a backpack full of educational fliers, got a new temporary home Thursday. It will reside with the staff and students of the Academy of Environmental Science.

Their job is to learn VIC's critical message about the importance of protecting endangered creatures and their habitat and then pass that message -- and VIC -- along.

Organizers of the educational project hope that the first few stops on VIC's epic journey will be in classrooms around Citrus County. This area, after all, has the distinction of being the home of the first flock of reintroduced migratory whooping cranes.

But after that, they say the sky is the limit on where they want the "sentinel crane" to travel.

VIC was handed off from the Operation Migration team to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service volunteer Pat Casselberry after the real cranes arrived safely at their new winter home. Casselberry and her husband, Jack, are Audubon Society members and helped with last year's pilot migration of a flock of sandhill cranes into the area.

Casselberry said that local U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials are hoping that VIC is passed around Citrus schools for awhile, further emphasizing the unique gift the area received when it was chosen to be the winter home for the rare whooping cranes.

"We're hoping they take this and build an awareness of our fortunate circumstances here," she said. "We're so grateful to have Chassahowitzka as the final home for these guys."

Already, VIC has been on a side trip. The toy went with Casselberry when she went to visit her daughter, who is studying psychology at Princeton University. Casselberry said VIC was introduced to a faculty member, Sam Glucksberg, a psychology professor who has been talking about the whooping crane project with his classes.

"I was just e-mailing Operation Migration on VIC's behalf noting that he's been boning up on psychology before undertaking this mission," Casselberry said. "He's getting spoiled with all this airplane flying."

Casselberry said the hope is that VIC can be an ambassador of sorts passed from person to person until it reaches people all over the country and even around the world.

"Their mission will be to pass him on as a sentinel of the flock, passing on the story of the whooping crane migration and Operation Migration," Casselberry said.

Lisa Merritt, the teacher who directs the academy, said the school is excited about being the first official group to participate in the program. "We're the starting point since the cranes are here," she said.

"Our job is going to be to pass this along . . . kind of like the Olympic torch," she said.

After receiving the crane on Thursday, students decided the bird needed a holiday vacation and they promptly decided to send him with academy science teacher Kristen Russell to Costa Rica to an education center the academy hopes to develop a relationship with. When the crane returns in January, the academy will then send him to his next location -- the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.

The school and those which receive a visit from VIC in the future will be asked to send photos and e-mails back to Operation Migration so they can keep the public informed of the stuffed bird's travels in the future.

"We're hoping that he can travel the world," said Heather Ray, administrative director for Operation Migration. "They can choose to send him on with anyone, anywhere they like."

Casselberry noted that handing off the crane was difficult to do.

"It's hard to pass it on, but that's his mission. He's got to keep migrating," she said. "I'm like a mother hen and I'm going to miss him . . . I'll just have to keep up with where he goes."

Date: Dec. 18, 2001 Location: Princeton University
Hi OM family! What a week I've had. My temporary caretakers thought I might have to take a crash course in social psychology before I become the official sentinel for you.

So I flew (on a BIG plane this time) to Princeton University to meet some of the people in the psychology department. One, in particular, Dr. Sam Glucksberg, has been speaking about our special reintroduction project to his classes for two years so, he was very happy to meet me. He told me I need no course since I'm already quite charming.

I had my photo taken with him and my caretaker's daughter, Amy Cuddy, who is a doctoral student in the same department. I will forward that photo as soon as I can.

Tomorrow, December 19th, it's off on the big plane to Florida so I can prepare for the next leg of my travel. That will begin 9:00am at the Academy of Environmental Science, Crystal River.

Don't worry - I'll keep in touch and I won't forget my mission.


Date: Dec. 12, 2001 Location: Crystal River, Florida
Hi Heather and all the Crew, Wow, what a trip in that ultralight with Joe Duff and all of you guys. Since I'm here I've learned a lot more about the trip down, especially how lucky I was to get a hitch all the way! I heard all the other cranes complaining about how they had to "wing it" the entire distance from Wisconsin to Florida. 
I'm having a great time - met this cute chick and have been spending lots of time with her. I understand I'll be traveling again Thursday, December 20th. I'm going to be presented to some school kids at the Environmental Center at 9:00AM. These people I'm staying with tell me there will be newspaper, TV and radio people there too. I miss all of you, but promise I will do a great job on behalf of all cranes throughout the world. 
Love, The VIC

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