Jan. 22, 2015 12:29 PM
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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — An endangered whooping crane was shot in Vermilion Parish and had to be put to death, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries said.

There's a reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to the conviction of whoever shot the young bird in late October or early November, department spokesman Adam Einck said Wednesday.

Whooping cranes are among the world's most endangered birds. There are only about 600 of the graceful, 5-foot-tall cranes, all descendants of 16 birds in a flock that migrates between Texas and Canada. That flock now numbers about 275, with about 100 in a flock trained to migrate between Wisconsin and Florida.

Sixty-four have been released in southwest Louisiana since early 2011 in an attempt to bring the cranes back to an area where they once thrived and a few survived into the early 1940s. Forty survive, including 14 juveniles released Dec. 29 at White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area near Gueydan.

Six have been shot, including the 1 ½-year-old female found Nov. 2 less than 20 miles north of White Lake. A necropsy Nov. 3 at the Louisiana State University veterinary school found that she had been shot sometime in the three previous days, Einck said in an email.

In an earlier interview, he said the department waited to make the information public until officials were certain what killed the bird and had reward money ready.

The injury to the bird's upper leg was too severe to be sure what had caused it until a necropsy report arrived Jan. 8, about 1½ weeks after the most recent group of juvenile cranes was released at White Lake, near Gueydan, he said.

She had been shot in her upper left leg and was euthanized Nov. 3.

Zoological medicine professor Tom Tully found that the bone was splintered into too many pieces to repair, veterinary school spokeswoman Ginger Guttner said in an email Thursday. "According to Dr. Tully, no one would have been able to successfully treat this fracture," she wrote.

Whooping cranes were hunted and collected nationwide, but loss of marshes and tall grass prairies to farmland was an even bigger problem, according to the department.

Nobody has claimed two other rewards: $20,000 for conviction of whoever shot a mated pair that was building practice nests in Jefferson Davis Parish in February 2014, and $15,000 for whoever hit a bird in the leg in April 2013.

Einck said the bird shot in 2013 apparently flew some distance after it was shot. It died northwest of Loggy Bayou in Red River Parish, 170 miles from White Lake.

Einck said the latest reward includes $3,000 from anonymous donors, up to $5,000 from The Humane Society of the United States and The Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust, and $1,000 each from the department's Operation Game Thief program and the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Foundation.

Tips can be called to Operation Game Thief at 800-442-2511, texted to 847411, or sent through the free LADWF Tips iPhone and Android apps. Tipsters may remain anonymous.