As reported by the Guardian, Russian President Vladimir Putin made an unlikely attempt yesterday to lead endangered cranes born in captivity in the Arctic north along their migration path to nesting sites in Iran and India. Taking to the air in a motorized hang glider—purportedly purchased for the task by Putin himself—the often-embattled politician hoped to start the endangered birds on their route from Siberia. While it seems only one lone white Siberian Crane chick opted to follow the glider on its first flight, Putin’s efforts have brought attention to the plight of the critically endangered birds, of which there are believed to be fewer than 3,000 left in the wild.
While Putin’s attempt to guide the endangered cranes onto their migration path didn’t quite have the impact that he might have hoped, the technique itself is not as quite absurd as it might seem. In the Guardian, Damon Bridge of the UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds explained that “Migration isn’t a natural instinct, [the birds] parents teach them to migrate. So if you want to teach them migration routes you can do it, amazingly, by wearing one of the costumes, jumping in a microlight and they’ll follow.”
Indeed, in 2002 Angelo D’Arrigo piloted a glider 5,300 kilmeters from Siberia to the Caspian Sea to lead the cranes in just that manner. And so, ten years later, Putin donned white overalls to take the guise of an adult white crane, and with a pilot took off from the Kushavet ornithological research station to embark on multiple short training efforts to lead the crane chicks in flight: a short video of the process can be seen here.
But, quite reasonably, Putin’s efforts have met with claims that he is simply engaging in efforts to further enhance his own—already very extensive—cult of personality. Of greater concern, the AP has reported that a biology student present at the site, Mariya Goncharova posted a description on Russian social networking website, vk.ru that two of the young birds died and others were injured in hurried efforts to prepare for President’s arrival; “One of the chicks got into a hang glider’s propeller while training and waiting,” and “[o]ne more broke a beak and stripped its claws off on bad netting.” The ornithological station has confirmed that one of the chicks died in the process, and an autopsy will determine cause of death.
Images via Kremlin.ru