I’ve just returned from my first genuine expedition to track down and witness Cranes, an exhilarating five days in western Victoria. Here roam the Brolgas, more specifically the southern population. This population is classified as Vulnerable. My desk research had made it clear that we don’t know how many southern Brolgas there are, with estimates ranging from 500 to 1,000. My trip brought home to me that we don’t really know where they are at any one moment.
Contrast that with the map above (from the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership website), which shows that America’s Whooping Cranes, even more precarious with a classification of Endangered, are tracked minutely. The table reveals that there are, to a great deal of precision, 826 Whooping Cranes. Moreover, the map shows that the Eastern Migratory subsection of those 826, exactly 85 birds, is tracked (via various means) almost exactly. The map gives the locations, logged in the last two months, of about 80 birds (I manually counted them).
What a difference in exactitude and, therefore, in human focus on one species versus another! My mind whirls with the implications.
The Siberian Crane is the most precarious of the fifteen global species of Cranes, with under 4,000 left in the Anthropocene Era. And we’re talking of the eastern population that breeds way up in eastern Siberia and winters in China. The Siberian Crane’s western population breeds in west Siberia and one branch of it used to over-winter in Iran. Well, guess how many of them are left. Here’s one of the saddest articles I’ve ever read, “Last Siberian Crane appears in Azerbaijan” in the magazine Bird Guides:
The last remaining Siberian Crane from the western population has been seen in Azerbaijan for the first time in a decade. The male crane, which is fondly known as Omid – Persian for ‘Hope’ – has returned to spend each winter alone at Fereydoon Kenar, in northern Iran, since February 2009, when the last surviving female died during a winter storm.
Birders are now following Omid on his journey but the magazine notes that this is, of course, “an irreversible path to oblivion.” I attempt to picture oblivion. How to do that?
Sasha Sagan, the daughter of the brilliant scientist Carl Sagan (he died in 1996), relates in “For Small Creatures Such As We: Rituals and Reflections for Finding Wonder” that her father used to tell her ” that air particles stay in our atmosphere for such a long time that we breathe the same air as the people who lived thousands of years ago.” That sense of continuity of generations, the binding straight line, is what drives me to pursue the survival prospects of Cranes and to join Extinction Rebellion. As Sasha Sagan puts it: ” The air you’re breathing right now, this second, involuntarily, automatically, it’s not just the old air of Jesus and Muhammad and Cleopatra, but also the new air of future generations.”