From: Dan Nephin, Associated Press
Published May 17, 2005 12:00 AM

Aviary to Send Rare Bird Eggs to Russia

PITTSBURGH — Even though they don't have wings, 15 eggs were flying to Russia on Monday. The eggs -- 12 from the endangered red-crown crane and three from the threatened white-naped crane -- are being sent by the National Aviary in Pittsburgh as part of a reintroduction program.


The eggs were leaving Monday from the Pittsburgh International Airport, flying by jet to Los Angeles, then to Seoul, then to Kakbarovsk, Russia. From there, it's a nine-hour train ride to the Khinganski Nature Reserve, located near the Amur River and China.


The National Aviary has been leading the reintroduction program for a decade after taking it over from the International Crane Foundation.


"It's wonderful because it's really taking a captive institution (and) taking that next step and trying to release these animals back into the wild," said Ann Burke, spokeswoman for the foundation in Baraboo, Wis.


This year, zoos in Cincinnati, Houston, Birmingham, Ala., Oklahoma City, Seattle, Boston and South Bend, Ind., provided eggs.


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Usually, the National Aviary also provides some eggs, but a female crane died two years ago and the aviary's new female hasn't mated yet, said Jim Dunster, the aviary's curator of birds.


"They're good friends, they're not lovers yet," he said.


In all, about 150 eggs have made the trip in the past decade.


"The eggs are much tougher than you would think," Dunster said. "They've always been alive and kicking when we got them (to the reserve.)"


The eggs, about 4 1/2 inches long for the red-crown and about 3 1/2 inches for the white-naped, are placed in coolers atop foam rubber, which sits on hot water bottles to keep them at a steady 99 degrees Fahrenheit.


Eggs are easier to send than birds, which have the potential to carry disease and require more permits, Dunster said.


Numbering between 1,700 and 2,000 in the wild, the red-crowned crane is the third most endangered bird in the world, according to the aviary and the International Crane Foundation. It's native to Russia, China and Japan. Between 4,900 and 5,400 white-naped cranes live in the wild. Both species are threatened by loss of habitat because of human encroachment.


The birds are banded in the Russian reserve, but once they leave, they can't be tracked, Dunster said. The program has been seeking grants for satellite tracking, but that would cost between $6,000 to $7,000 a bird, he said.


Source: Associated Press


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