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Conservation Medicine: Cranes of the World.


There are approximately 9000 to 10 000 species of birds in the world. (1,2) Depending on the clinical practice and its geographic location, the experienced avian veterinarian can care for hundreds, if not thousands, of different bird species. This type of practice requires a relatively broad knowledge base that often begins at a superficial level, but can deepen with time, effort, and experience. Imagine serving as a different type of avian veterinarian, one whose knowledge base is allowed to focus truly on one type of bird. Of course, there are models for this type of practice, such as poultry medicine or falconry veterinarians, but what if you were responsible for knowing everything that is known about cranes?

Dr Barry Hartup is Director of Conservation Medicine at the International Crane Foundation. Cranes are derived from an ancient family of birds that have been in existence for at least 40 million years. (3) The fossil record includes at least 17 extinct species, many of which were related closely to the grey crowned crane (Balearica regulorum). (3) Cranes are found throughout the world, except in South America and the Antarctic. (3,4) There are 15 living species of cranes, and 14 species and subspecies are vulnerable or endangered. (3-5) Their grassland and wetland habitats have been devastated all over the world, making these birds the perfect ambassadors for international conservation (Fig 1). (5)

A Brief History of the International Crane Foundation

The International Crane Foundation (ICF) began with 2 young ornithologists who met at Cornell University in 1971 and shared a passion to create a center to help cranes. Drs George Archibald and Ron Sauey leased a portion of the Sauey family horse farm in Wisconsin for $1 a year. Individual pens were created to house birds. The center was first incorporated in 1973 through the assistance of attorney and fellow conservationist, Forest Hartmann. (6,7)

Today, the nearly 1.2 [km.sup.2] headquarters of the ICF are located in Baraboo, WI, USA, approximately 10 km from the Sauey family farm. The ICF has an advisory board from 12 countries, a board consisting of 30 directors, and a staff of approximately 55 people that include experts in crane biology, environmental education, field ecology, captive management, and, of course, veterinary medicine (Fig 2). (6) The ICF networks with hundreds of specialists all over the world and conservationists also visit ICF headquarters to study and use materials in the Ron Sauey Library for Bird Conservation. (3-6) The Foundation also has a regional base in China and major regional programs in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia, and southeast Asia. The ICF also shares program offices with partner organizations in Texas, South Africa, India, Vietnam, and Cambodia. The headquarters in Wisconsin also are home to the only complete collection of all 15 species of cranes, with a captive flock of more than 100 birds. Exhibits provide information for public display and more than 20 000 people visit annually. (6,7)

Early Veterinary Care at the Foundation

The Foundation initially worked with local small animal veterinarians for urgent care. The Foundation also worked closely with the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine and in 1987, Dr Julie Langenberg became the first (part-time) staff veterinarian at ICF. Dr Langenberg taught avian medicine at the School of Veterinary Medicine and she also researched problems affecting wild bird health for the US Fish and Wildlife Service. (6,7) Dr Langenberg initiated ICF's involvement in recovery efforts for the whooping crane (Grus americana), the world's rarest crane. These efforts demanded an ever-growing veterinary presence throughout the 1990s. (5,7)

Director of Conservation Medicine

Dr Barry Hartup now serves as Director of Conservation Medicine at ICF and a Clinical Instructor in the Zoological Medicine Service at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine (Fig 3). Dr Hartup earned a Bachelor of Science in Zoology and a master's degree in Conservation Biology, both from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also completed an aviculture summer internship at ICF in 1986. Barry entered veterinary school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1989, where Dr Langenberg served as his mentor. (7,8) For those interested in finding an opportunity like his Directorship, Dr Hartup recommends completing more focused, directed study, such as a doctorate and/or master's degree program. (7) In addition to his master's, Dr Hartup also completed a PhD in Wildlife Diseases and Epidemiology from Cornell University in 2000. (8,9)

In the early years, ICF's partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Madison often focused on bird health and management, and included important consultations with the Poultry Science and former Veterinary Sciences departments. Greater collaboration in bird care began with the School of Veterinary Medicine's founding in 1982, but a relationship was not formalized until 2000 when a memorandum of understanding was forged that created a priority for service to ICF. The Foundation has greater access to advanced diagnostics, surgical staff, and pathology support. The veterinary school provides veterinary services to ICF through Dr Hartup's full-time position, which is exclusive to the Foundation. University of Wisconsin zoological medicine residents also rotate through ICF at least 1 month per year under Dr Hartup's supervision. (6,8) Because the focus of zoo medicine often is quite broad, Dr Hartup strives to make the residents' time at ICF applicable to other avian species allowing the crane to serve simply as a large avian model. (8) The ICF also offers a 1month externship or preceptorship program for fourth year veterinary medical students. Externs often are from the University of Wisconsin; however, students do come from all over the world. The Foundation also offers a veterinary research summer internship for first and second year veterinary students. (8)

Conservation Medicine

International Crane Foundation Priority Programs focus on 4 vital regions that support the most threatened crane species: sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia, south/southeastern Asia, and North America. To reflect and emphasize this international focus, veterinary services at ICF are now called conservation medicine. (6,7) How is conservation medicine different from wildlife medicine or conservation management? Wildlife rehabilitation focuses on care of the individual animal, while wildlife medicine focuses on free-ranging wildlife populations, using an approach similar to that for herd health. Conservation management tightly focuses on a particular taxonomic group, ranging from the medical care of a single individual in an ex situ manner to captive breeding of a critically endangered species. Conservation management can expand to assist in conservation related to the health and welfare of wild animals or even ecosystem health. Conservation medicine can include all these aforementioned efforts while always looking at these issues through the prism of One Health, which focuses on connections. In One Health, wild animal health is connected to domestic animal health, which is connected to human health, which is connected to environmental health, which in turn affects wild animal health, bringing this concept of connections full circle. (8,10)

Challenges for Cranes

Cranes face many challenges in captivity and in the wild. Direct threats include collisions with overhead power lines; poisoning from agricultural, municipal, and industrial runoff; infectious diseases; hunting; disturbances of nesting sites; illegal trade; as well as theft of eggs and chicks. One of the major goals of the ICF is to better understand these challenges. (6-8) The conservation medicine program is embedded in a variety of Foundation efforts that can benefit from the veterinary perspective and/or applied skills. (8)

One example of an international ICF project involves the endangered grey crowned crane (Fig 4). Across Africa, the population has experienced an approximately 80% decline in the last 10 to 20 years. These birds face threats to their habitat caused by drainage and overgrazing, and they also are at risk for pesticide poisonings and power line collisions. In Rwanda, the main threat is live trade. Cranes are taken from marshes as eggs or chicks, and sold to wealthy individuals or businesses as a status symbol and a sign of good fortune. Birds may be deflighted with wing trims; however, the wings often are purposefully broken. Bird owners usually are unaware of the crane's protected status or the fact that wild populations are endangered. (6-8)

In 2014, Rwandan veterinarian Dr Olivier Nsengimana began a groundbreaking public awareness and amnesty campaign on his own to tackle this problem. Dr Hartup has visited Rwanda several times in the past 2 years and led workshops on crane medicine and avian laboratory diagnostic techniques for Rwandan veterinarians and biologists. He also spent time assisting Dr Nsengimana's team at the quarantine facility in Kigali to evaluate the health of confiscated cranes and assess their viability for release. Their goal is to repatriate birds at Akagera National Park in eastern Rwanda and to bolster wild crane populations. Since late 2014, the program has registered 262 birds in the capital region alone. There are only 300 to 500 wild gray crowned cranes left in all of Rwanda. (6-8)

Cranes in Captivity

The captive flock at ICF is maintained as a "species bank." Many scientific contributions and "firsts" have been achieved with this flock, including the first captive breeding of critically endangered Siberian cranes (Grus leucogeranus). The Foundation has developed state-of-the-art techniques for husbandry and health care, artificial insemination, egg incubation and chick rearing, health care, and genetic management. (6,11) Active reintroduction projects strive to place as many cranes in the wild as possible and veterinarians have had a vital role in this effort. (12)

The use of assisted reproduction techniques allows the Foundation to multiple clutch birds; however, this also means some chicks must be captive reared. Costumes are used to captive rear birds, so they will not be human-imprinted and are appropriate for release. Veterinarians wear an amorphous costume and face mask to hide themselves from head to knee when working with the birds (Fig 5). (11) Handlers also do not use their voices during treatments, and cranes frequently are hooded to minimize stress (Fig 6). (8)

Cranes are reared first singly and then are socialized gradually with one another, which may be a stressful process. (8,10) The ICF has used fecal corticosterone levels as a measurement of stress in cranes, especially those in reintroduction programs. (8,12-15) Over the last few years, ICF also has compared fecal corticosterone levels in birds going through traditional captive rearing with those reared by parent birds or surrogate parents. It was surmised that lack of direct parental contact and captive management practices placed a fair amount of stress on captive-reared birds; however, preliminary data have found exactly the opposite. Fecal steroid levels actually are more unpredictable and varied in parent-reared birds compared to their costume-reared counterparts. (8) As Dr Hartup explains, "Captive-reared birds have everything they need, their environment is entirely predictable, they're protected, they have all the food they can eat. They always have access to fresh water. Their social interactions are also fairly mitigated because their caretakers do not want them to fight and injure themselves." (8)

Another reason fecal corticosterone levels have been evaluated in crane chicks is because of concerns over chronic stressors and disease. (8) Historically, aspergillosis has been a problem in captive-reared whooping crane chicks. (4,8,12,16) Over the last several years the number of aspergillosis cases has dropped dramatically thanks to improvements in management practices, such as ventilation and food quality; however, inherent species susceptibility also is an important consideration. (7) Whooping cranes simply may be less hardy than more common birds, like the sandhill crane (Grus canadensis), which numbers in the hundreds of thousands. The near extinction of the whooping crane caused this species to go through a genetic bottleneck, losing genetic diversity when their population numbers dwindled to 15 or 16 birds in the 1940s. (3-5,8) Interestingly, fecal corticosterone levels do not appear to suggest a correlation between chronic stress and fungal disease in whooping cranes. (8)

Free-ranging Cranes

Adult cranes are large, powerful birds that are not particularly amenable to capture in the wild. (17) It is an extraordinarily rare and costly endeavor to lay hands on free-ranging cranes, and, therefore, ICF looks for noninvasive ways to learn more about these birds. (8) Regular, remote monitoring activities focus on counting birds at roosts and feeding sites. (8) The ICF also applies fecal corticosterone measurements to free-ranging birds. (8) Samples have been collected from whooping cranes on the wintering grounds in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas over the last several years and show changes during drought cycles. (8) A further example of noninvasive monitoring involves collaboration with Dr Nyamba Batbayar of the Wildlife Science and Conservation Center of Mongolia to analyze egg shells and feathers from breeding white-naped cranes (Grus vipio) that migrate through southeastern China, one of the most heavily industrialized zones of the planet. (7,8) Dr Hartup also works with a scientist in northeastern China surveying heavy metal exposure in red-crowned cranes (Grus japonensis). (18)

The ICF provides leadership of the Whooping Crane Species Survival Plan and the Whooping Crane Health Advisory Team, and often partners with government agencies and nonprofit organizations in its work for whooping crane recovery. The whooping crane is critically endangered and is listed as CITES Appendix I. (12,19) A free-ranging population of approximately 400 cranes migrate from Canada to limited wintering grounds in Texas. Formed in 1999, the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership was founded to establish a separate, self-sustaining migratory population of whooping cranes in the eastern United States. (12,19) There currently are 96 whooping cranes living and breeding in the Eastern United States. (19) The ICF also is working to establish a resident population in Louisiana with costume-reared chicks. (7)


For more than 40 years the ICF has worked to protect cranes and the ecosystems, watersheds, and flyways on which they depend. (6, 7) In the early days, the organization was essentially run out of a barn. Today, the crane farm of the 70s and 80s has been transformed into an international, nonprofit conservation organization. The work of ICF includes active reintroduction projects and veterinarians have had a key role in these efforts. (7,12)

Dr Barry Hartup's fascinating career as Director of Conservation Medicine has allowed him to apply his veterinary knowledge and technical skills to the challenges cranes face in today's world. Dr Hartup collaborates with other wildlife health specialists working with cranes and he investigates pertinent questions to the field, while participating in a variety of projects that focus on captive and free-ranging cranes around the world.

Christal Pollock, DVM, Dipl ABVP (Avian)

From the Lafeber Company, 24981 N 1400 East Road. Cornell. IL 61319. USA.


(1.) Clements JF, Schulenberg TS, Iliff MJ, et al. 2017. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: v2016. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology web site. Available at: Accessed October 21, 2017.

(2.) Morony JJ, Bock WJ. Farrand J. Reference List of the Birds of the World. New York, NY: American Museum of Natural History; 1975.

(3.) Archibald GW, Lewis JC. Crane biology. In: Ellis DH, Gee GF, Mirande CM. Cranes: Their Biology, Husbandry and Conservation. Baraboo, WI: US Department of the Interior, National Biological Service, Washington, DC and International Crane Foundation; 1996:1, 25.

(4.) MacLean RA, Beaufrere H. Gruiformes (cranes, limpkins, rails, gallinules, coots, bustards). In: Miller RE, Fowler ME. Fowler's Zoo and Wild Animai Medicine, 8th ed. St Louis, MO: Saunders/ Elsevier; 2015:155-164.

(5.) Meine C, Archibald GW. Ecology, status, and conservation. In: Ellis DH, Gee GF, Mirande CM. Cranes: Their Biology, Husbandry and Conservation. Baraboo, Wisconsin: US Department of the Interior. National Biological Service, Washington. DC and International Crane Foundation; 1996:263, 286-288.

(6.) International Crane Foundation. Cranes: Symbols of survival. Ten-year strategic vision for the International Crane Foundation. 2013. International Crane Foundation web site. Available at: Accessed August 18, 2016.

(7.) International Crane Foundation. Annual report 2017. April 2016-March 2017. International Crane Foundation web site. Available at: Accessed November 47 2017.

(8.) Hartup B. Interviewed by Pollock CG. August 18, 2016.

(9.) University of Wisconsin-Madison. Barry Hartup. University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine web site. Available at: Accessed October 22, 2017.

(10.) Atlas RM, Maloy S. One Health: People, Animals, and the Environment. Washington, DC: ASM Press; 2014.

(11.) Nagendran M, Urbanek RP, Ellis DH. Special techniques. Part D: Reintroduction techniques. In: Ellis DH, Gee GF, Mirande CM. Cranes: Their Biology, Husbandry and Conservation. Baraboo, Wisconsin: US Department of the Interior, National Biological Service, Washington, DC and International Crane Foundation; 1996:234-237.

(12.) Keller DL, Hartup BK. Reintroduction medicine: whooping cranes in Wisconsin. Zoo Biol. 2013; 32(6):600-607.

(13.) Hartup B K, Olsen GH, Czekala NM. Fecal corticoid monitoring in whooping cranes (Grus americana) undergoing reintroduction. Zoo Biol. 2005;24(l):15-28.

(14.) Hartup BK, Olsen GH, Czekala NM, et al. Levels of fecal corticosterone in sandhill cranes during a human-led migration. J Wildl Dis. 2004;40(2):267-272.

(15.) Ludders JW, Langenberg JA, Czekala NM, Erb HN. Fecal corticosterone reflects serum corticosterone in Florida sandhill cranes. J Wildl Dis. 2001; 37(3):646-652.

(16.) Schwarz T, Kelley C, Pinkerton ME, Hartup BK. Computed tomographic anatomy and characteristics of respiratory aspergillosis in juvenile whooping cranes. Vet Radiol Ultrasound. 2016;57(1): 16-23.

(17.) Hausmann JC, Cray C, Hartup BK. Comparison of serum protein electrophoresis values in wild and captive whooping cranes (Grus americana). J Avian Med Surg. 2015;29(3): 192-199.

(18.) Luo J, Ye Y, Gao Z, et al. Lead in the red-crowned cranes (Grus japonensis) in Zhalong wetland. Northeastern China: a report. Bull Environ Contam Toxicol. 2016:97(2): 177-183.

(19.) Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership. What We Do, Who We Are. Available at Accessed on December 15, 2016.

Caption: Figure 1. Their extraordinary beauty, striking behavior, magnificent dance, and dramatic migrations have long attracted humans to the crane and have made these birds flagship species for conservation. Photo credit: NaturesFan via Flickr Creative Commons.

Caption: Figure 2. Published in 1996, the award-winning text Cranes: Their Biology, Husbandry & Conservation was co-authored by International Crane Foundation and Patuxent Wildlife Research Center personnel. The United States Geological Survey now makes this book available online at

Caption: Figure 3. Dr Barry Hartup, Director of Conservation Medicine at the International Crane Foundation, examines a grey crowned crane. Photo credit: Barry Hartup, DVM, PhD.

Caption: Figure 4. The grey crowned crane is native to eastern and southern Africa and is the national bird of Uganda, featured in the nation's flag and coat of arms. Photo credit: River Wanderer via Flickr Creative Commons.

Caption: Figure 5. Examination of a juvenile whooping crane by individuals in hoods and costumes. Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, Decatur, AL. Photo credit: Bill Gates, US Fish and Wildlife Service SE Region via Flickr Creative Commons.

Caption: Figure 6. A hood is placed on a juvenile whooping crane to help keep the bird calm during handling. Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, Decatur, AL. Photo credit: Bill Gates, US Fish and Wildlife Service SE region via Flickr Creative Commons.
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Title Annotation:Historical Perspective
Author:Pollock, Christal
Publication:Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2018
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