Walt Disney World Resort More Walt Disney World Resort Stories

Wildlife Wednesdays: Injured Whooping Crane Receives Care at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Scott Terrell

by , DVM, DACVP, Director of Animal & Science Operations, Walt Disney Parks & Resorts

In addition to caring for the animals that make their home at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, and The Seas with Nemo & Friends at Epcot, the Disney’s Animal Programs animal operations and animal health teams also often step in to care for animals in the wild. Such an occasion arose last week, when we were asked to care for a wild whooping crane found in South Florida with a severe injury to one of her toes.
Injured Whooping Crane Receives Care at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

We received word from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the International Crane Foundation (ICF) that the injured whooping crane had been observed by residents in the area. The whooping crane is part of a reintroduction project with which our team has significant experience through cooperation with groups such as the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) and Operation Migration, conservation groups that are helping protect these animals. Members of our animal operations team traveled to South Florida to bring the bird to Disney’s Animal Kingdom to receive care. Caring for — and, in this case, capturing — a wild whooping crane calls for special preparations, including wearing white costumes and head coverings until the bird’s sight can be blocked by using a cloth eye covering. The goal is for the birds not to get imprinted on humans.

Upon arrival at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the whooping crane received a full medical examination, and, although the bird’s injury did require amputation of the affected toe, the bird is adjusting well, and we hope that she will soon be released back into the wild.
Operation Migration Uses Ultralight Aircraft to Guide Hand-Reared Whooping Cranes on Their First Migration

Did you know?

  • Each year, a new group of hand-reared whooping cranes makes its first migration south from Wisconsin to Florida through Operation Migration. The rare birds are led by ultralight aircraft flown by the pilots of the Operation Migration team. Threats such as habitat loss and unregulated hunting brought the whooping crane population to an alarming low of only 15 birds in the early 1940s.

  • The Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund has supported Operation Migration since its inception in 2000 to help grow the migratory population of these cranes and to develop and refine this innovative model, which might help other species.

  • The International Crane Foundation helps protect and conserve crane species around the world. The crane being treated in the veterinary hospital at Disney’s Animal Kingdom was raised by the ICF for release into the wild in 2012. The Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund has supported the ICF and many initiatives around the globe to help cranes.

  • Disney’s Animal Programs animal keepers assist with the hand-rearing of whooping crane chicks, and team members monitor the cranes during their initial arrival in Florida. The veterinary team performs health exams on the chicks before they are released to start their acclimation to the wild following their migration.

  • Inside Conservation Station at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, guests can see our Operation Migration exhibit, which includes an ultralight aircraft used to lead the whooping cranes on their migration, and find out more about this amazing story.

Read on for more “Wildlife Wednesdays”:


  • My brother works for Operation Migration… What a fantastic organization! I know he aspires to work in conjunction with them and Disney and it’s so nice to see Disney give a shout out to the “little guys” who make a big difference. 🙂

Comments are closed.