‘Rare White-Naped Crane Hatches National Zoo Conservation and Research Center’
courtesy of ‘Smithsonian’s National Zoo’
Okay, boys and girls — it’s time for a little talk about the birds and the bees. Well, the birds anyway.
The good news is that there’s a new baby girl at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo Conservation and Research Center in Front Royal, Va. — a rare white-naped crane that’s an endangered species because of destruction of its native habitat, wetlands in northeast China. Female hatchlings have been few and far between in recent years, which puts the population at further risk.
Therefore, like children of royalty, this girl came peeping into the world with lots of responsibility on her shoulders, that of “the most genetically important hatchling in the North American White-Naped Crane Species Survival Program.” She can help boost the captive population of the endangered species. No pressure, and I hope she wants a gazillion kids.
The bad news is she’s got some whacked family relations, great fodder for a reality TV show or at least Dr. Phil.
The story starts with an arranged marriage. The two are hand picked for one another through the White-Naped Crane Species Survival Program, described as Match.com for endangered species.
Apparently Mr. Crane is a real stud; genetically, he’s a perfect match for a certain female crane, who gets shipped out to the Zoo’s center to meet him. But the two don’t get along nearly as well as their matchmakers hoped (haven’t we all been there?). Instead of canoodling, they fight.
This is my favorite line from the press release: “Keepers suspect that the female crane imprinted on humans at an early age, causing her to exhibit inappropriate behavior and inciting aggression from the male.” What kind of humans did she imprint on? Judge Judy fans? Compulsive shoppers? Women who forward men-hating e-mails? Or just folks that taught her to keep a messy nest?
So amidst her tears and confusion, Mrs. Crane takes up with the zookeeper — or more specifically, he takes up with her, with one thing on his mind. His name is — with all due respects to Dave Barry, I am not making this up — Mr. Crowe.
He slowly earned Mrs. Crane’s trust by playing with her, sitting with her, stroking her. You know the drill. She warmed to him, and then one day he was able to artificially inseminate her without restraining her or using anesthesia, which, I think it goes without saying, would have been stressful. (For those of you who remember Frasier, I don’t know if Dr. Crane was there, or listening. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
Mrs. Crane produced a fertile egg. But there was another catch. The breeding program, like the population, is awash with males. So in the reverse of what happens in certain human cultures, the powers that be wanted to weed out eggs with male chicks.
So they used a technique that lets them poke a hole in the eggshell, take out a blood sample without killing the chick or bringing in any microorganisms that would later kill it. Genetic testing from the blood sample revealed our girl, and the show went on.
The story doesn’t end there. Because of the bizarre family dynamics of Dad, Mom, and the zookeeper, the egg went to live with Grandma and Grandpa. The paternal grandparents sat the egg, and in time the chick was hatched.
In the traditional happy ending, by then Mom and Dad had worked out their differences, Mr. Crowe’s attentions were elsewhere, and the fluffy new arrival was placed with its parents to make a family of three. (Ah, don’t we wish.) The new baby girl joins 10 cranes at the zoo, and an estimated 5,000 in the wild.
So life goes on, for the beleagured family and the white-naped crane population. Talk about it taking a village.