North American Crane Working Group


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Nesbitt, S.A. Do we really need such rare birds?. In: Folk, MJ and SA Nesbitt, eds. 2008. Proceedings of the Tenth North American Crane Workshop, Feb. 7-10, 2006, Zacatecas City, Zacatecas, Mexico: North American Crane Working Group. pp. 1-2.


Reproduced by permission of the North American Crane Working Group.


Gruidae is one of the oldest bird families; the genus Grus dates back at least 9 million years. Though they may have been around a long time, it is unlikely that cranes were ever among the most abundant of birds. Several of the 15 crane species occur today in such low numbers that they are considered in danger of becoming extinct. It has been posited that at the time of European colonization of North America whooping cranes may have numbered 10,000 individuals, so whooping cranes have likely always been rare birds. Rare has often been used as a synonym for endangered, however some organisms are rare by natural occurrence and not necessarily about to become extinct as the term rare and endangered would imply. It stands to reason, though, that those things that occur in low numbers are more liable to extinction than those in greater abundance. The amount of society’s resources that have been committed to preventing the decline or extinction of rare animals has been in the billions of dollars; with millions of acres of land and thousands of years of efforts being dedicated to this same purpose. But to what avail? Aren’t we still losing species at an alarming rate? Does the pace of their loss not seem to be accelerating? Accompanying the disappearance of species from the planet we often hear the cynical drone “why bother, they were doomed anyway, otherwise they would not have been rare in the first place.” Follow this course of logic to its end point and the product of the argument becomes appallingly apparent. Would we really be happy sharing the planet with nothing other than pigeons, cockroaches, house sparrows and rats? Let’s hope not! As humanity’s unkind progress overwhelmed those species that had the misfortune to be in the way, and before we excuse our insolent sins with so cavalier a notion as forgone doom, we should pause and fully appreciate what it is we are losing.