May 27, 2010
The National Zoo has two new long-necked, long-legged friends.
The white-naped crane chicks, born May 12 and May 14, are the newest residents of the zoo’s Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia. Native to China, Russia and Korea, the cranes number just an estimated 5,000 in the wild due to destruction of its native wetland habitat.
Breeding the rare birds has become something of a specialty at the institute. Researchers there have managed to successfully breed older birds, or birds with behavioral or physical problems, using artificial insemination. The process has resulted in the births, over the past eight years, of nine “genetically valuable” chicks, as researchers like to call the birds who are bred to capture genes that otherwise would have been lost. Currently the institute is home to 12 of the 60 cranes that are part of the breeding program, the North American White-Naped Crane Species Survival Plan.
The chicks’ mother was artificially inseminated at the end of March, and the chicks’ eggs were laid in April.
One chick will be raised by first-time crane parents (including the biological mother); the second will be raised by an older, unrelated pair of cranes. The genders of the chicks are unknown for now—but we hope we find out (and maybe even name them!) soon.
Sign up for our free email newsletter and receive the best stories from Smithsonian.com each week.