Taiwan’s latest celebrity just left the island without even so much of a goodbye, the New York Times reports.
Sporting a snowy white coat and legs that go for miles, the critically endangered Siberian Crane migrates each winter from eastern Russia to Poyang Lake in central China. But two years ago, one young crane flew off course, most likely disoriented by droughts and the ongoing dam construction on Poyang that has made the bird’s former home nearly unrecognizable. This is how the little white crane of Jinshan—as the locals called him—came to be the first Siberian Crane ever seen in Taiwan. One of fewer than 4,000 in the world, it somehow landed in the Chingshui Wetland on the northern tip of the island.
During his sojourn, the bird became an instant celebrity. Less than a year old upon his arrival, the juvenile crane had a crown of cinnamon-colored feathers that soon gave way to milky-white plumage and a distinctive red mask. Crowds of up to 100 people came to see him each day—enough for the local government to issue a daytime security detail. Sightseers snapped pictures as the bird stalked the Taipei wetlands, surviving attacks from dogs, typhoons, and even a disruptive camera crew that filmed a TV drama in his new home.
So it was a bittersweet—if not sudden—farewell when the crane disappeared last month after two years on the island. Researchers say the bird may have headed to Poyang Lake to rejoin his flock, where they hope he will produce offspring and enrich the species’ global population.
No one knows if he will ever return to Taiwan, where he is already sorely missed. “I hope he has a smooth trip to see his family,” a local farmer, whose rice paddies often served as a home for the crane, said in an interview with The Times. “I hope next year he comes back with a girlfriend.”
Meanwhile, across the sea, another crane chick recently made history as the first wild Whooping Crane born in Louisiana in over 75 years. Thanks to national efforts, these endangered cranes have made long strides since glimpsing the brink of extinction a century ago. Hopefully, the fate of the Siberian Crane will follow suit.