FROM ZOO TO YOU Celebrating sarus cranes

By Julianne Turner

We are approaching the time of year when many celebrations take place. The last two months of the year are when many families get together to celebrate Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and other holidays. Here at the Zoo, we are starting the month of November with a very special celebration of our own: Mork, the sarus crane and oldest zoo resident, is turning 49 years old!

For humans, the age of 49 is somewhere in the middle of our life; but for sarus cranes, it is far beyond their average life expectancy of 40-42 years. While he may be of old age, Mork is healthy as ever! It is common to see him searching for insects to snack on around his habitat, which he shares with his mate, Mindy. If you have visited the zoo before or even just walked around Finnup Park, you have likely heard these two vocalizing loudly in a duet.

Along with their calls, they will also take part in an intricate courtship dance during the rainy season. This song and dance mean they are a bonded pair, and it is something you would see from their wild counterparts as well. The bonds they create are known to be very strong: sarus cranes are even a symbol of a good marriage for people living in their native habitats in South Asia and Australia!

Standing up to six feet tall sarus cranes are the tallest species of flying bird in the world. They do not migrate long distances like other crane species; they tend to stay in the same areas all year round. They spend much of their time wading in waters looking for food, which can include aquatic plants, invertebrates, and small vertebrates. Here at the zoo, Mork and Mindy receive a special crane diet and the occasional special treat to help keep them healthy.

In the wild, these birds are considered vulnerable to extinction, mostly due to habitat loss. With a growing population of people in their area, a lot of their wetlands are being converted to agricultural areas or housing, and water is being diverted to sustain the people living there. 

However, lots of work is being done to protect the sarus crane as well! In southern Asia, sarus crane advocates are connecting people with the species and helping them understand the ways that a sarus crane can help with biodiversity and play a role in maintaining the populations of their prey and the vegetation of wetlands.

While we live very far away from their native home, their story is a reminder that water is a limited resource for both humans and wildlife. Small actions we can do every day include taking a shorter shower, turning off the water when we brush our teeth, or only watering the yard in the morning or evening rather than in the middle of the day. By using less water in our homes, we can help ensure there is enough water for our wildlife friends as well!

We hope you will stop by and say hello to the sarus cranes during your next zoo visit. And if you’re around on Nov. 7, be sure to wish Mork a very happy 49th birthday!

Julianne Turner is the guest engagement coordinator at Lee Richardson Zoo.