The Smithsonian National Zoo announced Wednesday that two rare white-naped crane chicks hatched on May 12 and 14 at the Smithsonian Conversation Biology Institute (SCBI) in Front Royal, Va. The births are also a salute to the Zoo’s continued success in breeding these endangered birds as part of the North American White-Naped Crane Species Survival Plan.
But it wasn’t easy. Zoo keepers originally tried to set the birds up to naturally breed, but four of the last five white-naped cranes sent to the Front Royal campus were older birds with behavioral or physical problems, so the attempts weren’t successful. Eventually, a female was artificially inseminated.
Under the Species Survival Plan, the Zoo’s conservation efforts have focused on regrowing the bird’s populations in captivity, and the SCBI has successfully produced nine “genetically valuable” white-naped crane chicks in the past eight years through artificial insemination.
The cranes are native to China, Russia and Korea, where destruction of their native wetlands has caused their numbers to dwindle. It is estimated that about 5,000 of them are left in the wild.
“Both hatchings give a much-needed boost to the captive population of the endangered species,” said Chris Crowe, bird keeper at SCBI. “The Zoo has produced more offspring than any other institution, in the past eight years, and we are truly committed to advancing the species.”
White-naped cranes typically stand four feet high and weigh about 12 pounds. As adults, they are mostly dark-gray with a white hind neck. Currently, SCBI has 12 cranes, and the gender of these two chicks is still unknown.