In June 2002, I had the privilege of visiting the United States on a lecture tour with Dr. George Archibald, Co-Founder of the International Crane Foundation and Dr. Lam Dorji, Executive Director the Royal Society for the Protection of Nature to raise money for RSPN’s endowment fund. We toured 15 cities in 29 days and presented over 34 shows.
During one of our rare free moments, George took us to visit the Bronx Zoo in New York. The Bronx Zoo is the biggest zoo in the world and exhibits included almost every animal that you could think about. We saw Bengal tigers, polar bears, black-necked cranes, and much more. After looking around for over an hour, George decided to take us to see some cranes that were not part of the exhibit. Since everyone knew George, we had no problems visiting “behind the scenes” and I was to witness something that has had a lasting impression on me. The moment the bird curator let us in into a large fenced area with some cranes, a white-naped crane ran towards us. George knelt down and this bird starting preening its neck against George, who had his hands around the crane. I was truly amazed with this behavior as I had never even imagined that birds could behave this way. I was extremely curious and pestered George to tell me more about this bird. Apparently, George only saw this crane a few times since 1971 but she never forgot him.
When George was studying cranes at the Cornell University, he had written to several zoos around the world to donate cranes to him to study their behavioral patterns. Amongst the donated birds was one from the Bronx Zoo – the very White-naped crane we were now visiting which was a crippled and untidy looking female when he first received her. He had built a small cage for her next to a cage with two sandhill crane chicks.
One morning George was intrigued to find this white-naped crane feeding the two sandhill chicks through the wire mess separating their cages. So he had decided to put the three of them together and within days this sad and messy looking crane starting molting and became a most beautiful looking bird. During that time in 1968, there were only a few white-naped cranes in captivity in the USA and George never dreamed of finding her a mate. But he did and Rory, from Memphis Zoo arrived. They paired and produced many chicks.
It was their prolific behavior –given a chance– that encouraged George and his late friend Ron Sauey to create the International Crane Foundation (ICF). George in his typical modesty considers these two cranes as the real founders of the ICF and considers them his special friends — the crown jewels. (The ICF amongst many things raises crane chicks in captivity for release into the wild. Check their website www.savingcranes.org for more details.) To this day, I feel moved thinking of the most peculiar incident at the Bronx Zoo. I would like to end my story on this most touching note with a copy of the email from Carol Hesch from the Memphis Zoo to George.
From: Carol Hesch [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Wednesday, January 10, 2007 11:21 AM
To: George Archibald
Just wanted to let you know that the female white-naped crane died this spring at the Bronx. She was 46 years old! The male died a couple years ago, around the same age. This is the pair you started with at Cornell a few years ago. They produced many offspring over the years.
Best wishes for the New Year,
— Hishey Tshering
Bhutan Birding & Heritage Travels.