Gulf of Mexico
Game wardens approach an injured Whooping Crane, which later died of gunshot wounds. Photo by ODWC

OK - 'Angry and heartsick': Oklahoma game wardens still investigating deaths of whooping cranes

Game wardens are still investigating last month's shooting deaths of four whooping cranes near the Tom Steed Reservoir in Kiowa County.

Whooping cranes are endangered, with only about 500 of the birds in the wild in North America. It is the tallest bird in North America, standing about 5 feet tall.

On Dec. 15, an injured whooping crane was discovered near the southwestern Oklahoma lake by hunters who notified game wardens with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. The whooping crane died while being transported to a veterinary clinic.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's forensics laboratory conducted a necropsy and determined the cause of death as a shotgun wound. A search of the area where the first bird was found led to finding three more dead whooping cranes.

Nathan Erdmann, chief of law enforcement for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, said Thursday that game wardens are following up on leads.

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"It is still under investigation," he said. "We are waiting on some search warrant information to come back."

Erdmann would not say whether investigators think the whooping cranes were mistaken as sandhill cranes by hunters or shot intentionally.

It is sandhill crane hunting season in Oklahoma. Two years ago, state wildlife officials temporarily closed sandhill crane hunting at Hackberry Flat when a whooping crane showed up on the wetland area with a group of sandhill cranes.

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