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Postmortem evaluation of reintroduced migratory whooping cranes (Grus americana) in eastern North America

December 19, 2019

We reviewed necropsy records of 124 Whooping Cranes (Grus americana) recovered following reintroduction of 268 individuals from 2001 to 2016 in the eastern US. Causes of death were determined in 62% (77/124) of cases facilitated by active monitoring that limited decomposition and scavenging artifact. The greatest proportions of mortality were caused by predation (0.468; 95% confidence interval 0.356–0.580; 36/77), collision with power lines or vehicles (0.260; 0.162–0.358; 20/77), and gunshot (0.169; 0.085–0.253; 13/77). Six deaths were attributed to infection (0.078; 0.018–0.138; 6/77), including bacterial and fungal etiologies. Lead analysis of 50 liver samples yielded two results with elevated concentrations (3.65 and 10.97 ppm wet weight), and 10 bone samples from partial carcasses lacking suitable liver tissue resulted in one elevated result (48.82 ppm dry weight). These data indicate that underlying subclinical or clinical lead toxicosis may be a factor in up to 5% of deaths attributed to predation or impact trauma. Brain cholinesterase activity testing indicated no exposure to organophosphate or carbamate pesticides (mean±SD=17.32±2.90 µmol/min/g, 31/71). The causes of death and potential underlying factors summarized in this study constitute the first definitive mortality survey of migratory Whooping Cranes based on a high carcass recovery rate. Causes of death by infectious etiologies remained comparatively rare in this study, and occurred as single cases with no evidence of sustained transmission among reintroduced Whooping Cranes.

Publication Year 2020
Title Postmortem evaluation of reintroduced migratory whooping cranes (Grus americana) in eastern North America
DOI 10.7589/2019-05-124
Authors Taylor J. Yaw, Kimberli J.G. Miller, Julia S. Lankton, Barry K. Hartup
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Wildlife Disease
Index ID 70210758
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization National Wildlife Health Center