They arose without warning—the sound of trumpets and wings filling the air and dark figures beginning to fill the purple, dimly lit sky. They moved in small groups at first, otherworldly figures with wingspans of nearly two meters, growing in number with each passing minute. As they began to descend into a nearby field, discordant shots rang out—shattering the peace and fluidity of the seconds just before.
Thus was the moment I fell in love with the cranes.
|Top and middle: Courtesy Author, Bottom: Courtesy Scott Helfrich-2012 National Wildlife Photo Contest, National Wildlife Refuge System|
My experiences that day highlight the precarious position held by many species in society. Sandhill Cranes are birds so loved by the public that a week long “Festival of the Cranes” is held each year to celebrate their arrival, drawing thousands of visitors to rural New Mexico and bringing a flurry of business to local hotels and restaurants.
However, they are “Ribeye of the Sky” for the less than 200 hunters who actively hunt cranes each winter in New Mexico—hunters who contribute relatively little to the local economy when compared to the masses of non-consumptive crane enthusiasts. Wounded cranes that go un-retrieved are not uncommon. In fact, the USF&WS estimates that for every crane bagged, one crane is lost due to “crippling.”[i] Additionally, chicks are dependent on their parents to some degree until they reach about ten months of age. Thus cranes are actively caring for their chicks during the hunting season.
It is my hope that New Mexico Game and Fish will one day recognize the value that living cranes bring to New Mexico, and that hunting them is not only cruel and economically insignificant, but an unnecessary disruption to a species that has been migrating to the region since the Pleistocene.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (2012). Status and Harvests of Sandhill Cranes. Denver, CO: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.