NEWS

Whooping crane tours on offer at Wood Buffalo National Park

03/23/2015 10:33 EDT | Updated 05/23/2015 05:59 EDT
With Wood Buffalo National Park's whooping crane population on the rise, Parks Canada is giving the public a front row seat to view something very few people have ever seen.

This summer, guided tours will be offered to migratory whooping crane nesting grounds.

Thirty lucky people will get a chance to join a flyover at an altitude of 1000 feet. Six will trek through the boggy habitat to a blind about 200 metres from the nests.

"It's the only place in the world that you can get this experience," says Richard Zaidan, manager of visitor experience at Wood Buffalo. "This is the only natural, self-sustaining nesting flock in the entire world."

On the brink of extinction in the 1940s, the migratory whooping crane flock has grown to 308 birds. Parks Canada says the flock is growing by about 4 per cent each year, but the cranes still face many challenges, such as disease and encountering toxic spills during their migration south.

The tours were designed to increase interest in the endangered species, which can assist with recovery efforts, Zaidan says.

"Education and outreach, we feel, is a very important part of protection and recovery of the cranes."

Yellowknife MLA and former bird biologist Bob Bromley agrees with Zaidan, saying visitor experience is key to continued conservation.

"If we are not allowed to use our resources, people care less about them," says Bromley.

Before the tours were introduced, about three people visited the whooping cranes' nesting grounds each year, typically scientists and park staff for monitoring purposes. However, decades of research and monitoring have helped the park design the tours to mitigate risk, according to Zaidan.

"Before the visitors come, park staff are going to go in and test this," he says, "and if we detect any disturbances at all, we will leave the area, and we won't go back."

Some of the packages cost nearly $4,000 and half the tours have sold out thus far.

Parks Canada hopes the pictures from the tours will go viral, raising awareness about the whooping cranes' fragile state.

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