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Citizen Tip Leads to Closure of Whooping Crane Shooting in Indiana


April 18, 2011


Media contact:

USFWS: Tina Shaw, 612-713-5331



Whooping crane pair feed and rest at Patokah River National Wildlife Refuge in Indiana on their migration south.

Photo by USFWS: Steve Gifford.

Closure comes in the case of matriarch whooping crane shooting because of a citizen tip. Wade Bennett of Cayuga, Ind. pled guilty and was sentenced on March 30, 2011, for his involvement in the shooting of a whooping crane in Vermillion County, Ind. Bennett and a juvenile were charged and sentenced in Indiana State Court, in Vermillion County, Ind. Bennett and the juvenile received probation, fines and fees for their involvement in the shooting of the crane. Voluntary information from a local citizen was instrumental in closing this case.


Wildlife law enforcement agents with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources investigated the shooting of the crane. The crane, last observed alive by an International Crane Foundation (ICF) staff member on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2009, was found dead by an ICF volunteer found on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2009, in rural Vermillion County, Ind.


The crane, identified by a leg band, was known as the matriarch of the reintroduction program and was the seven-year old mother of “Wild 1-06,” the first whooping crane chick successfully hatched (in 2006) and fledged by reintroduced cranes raised in captivity.


In early spring 2010, a citizen came forward with information concerning the shooting of the crane. The citizen’s information was valuable to investigators during subsequent interviews of Bennett and the juvenile. Both Bennett and the juvenile confessed to their involvement in the shooting of the whooping crane.


Observations reported by the public play a key role in solving wildlife crime, according to USFWS Special Agent Buddy Shapp. “People who live in an area notice details that can tell us a lot,” Shapp said. “They sometimes see something or hear something that strikes them as unusual but not necessarily criminal. People might not realize that their observation is significant.” Defenders of Wildlife, the Indiana Turn in a Poacher Program and other conservation partners committed to matching the original USFWS $2,500 reward monies, bringing the citizen reward to almost $10,000 for this key information.


Whooping cranes face monumental challenges in the wild--mortality due to predators and disease, and the threat of continued habitat loss. “The senseless killing of a whooping crane by a human hand is inexcusable and entirely preventable,” notes Dr. John French, of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, and a member of the US-Canada Whooping Crane Recovery Team.


“With fewer than 400 whooping cranes in the wild, every bird is important in our efforts to keep this species from extinction, and this particular bird was extremely valuable to the recovery program: this unnecessary killing is a setback. It is encouraging there are so many citizens across the country who continue to champion the whooping crane recovery and can help prevent this from happening again,” said French.


“Our investigators coordinate closely with the judicial system in an effort to secure the most appropriate penalties for the commission of crimes against wildlife and natural resources,” noted USFWS Midwest Region Assistant Special Agent in Charge Andy Buhl.


In addition to the Endangered Species Act, whooping cranes are protected by state laws and the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. To learn more about USFWS wildlife conservation efforts, visit: http://www.fws.gov/midwest/LawEnforcement/.


For more information about whooping crane recovery and the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, visit: http://www.bringbackthecranes.org/.


The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit http://www.fws.gov.




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