There are not one but two whooping crane siblings now calling the Calgary area home.
Their situation is unique, not just because there are only about 450 of the birds are left in the wild, but because of who’s raising them.
Zookeeper Valerie Edwards acts like a bit of a social worker at the so-called “cranedominiums,” at the Calgary Zoo’s award-winning Devonian Wildlife Conservation Centre. Whooping cranes have been the focus of a breeding program at the De Winton facility since the early 1990s, but this year Edwards added a twist to the traditional breeding routine.
“Whooping cranes do lay two eggs at a time with the idea that they would both hatch within a couple days of each other. If there’s enough resources and everything goes according to plan, both could succeed,” said Edwards.
But it happens rarely.
For example, Wood Buffalo National Park , where the cranes naturally breed, had just over 60 fledged chicks last year. Of those, there were only two sets of twins.
“The second egg is essentially a backup egg.”
In captivity, the likelihood of whooping crane twins is even rarer. Earlier this year, a Florida facility bred twins and is believed to be the first to successfully do so, said Edwards.
“We had never done twins before,” she said.
READ MORE: Whooping crane chick hatches at Calgary Zoo
For the eggs, Edwards enlisted one of the newest breeding pairs at the Calgary Zoo’s conservation centre. Tim and Bombadil just started breeding last year, making them a genetically valuable match, but the pair was somewhat lacking in parenting experience.
As such, the twins’ grandparents — Aurora and Ish, one the facility’s longest breeding pairs — were called in to assist.
“We actually put the one already hatched chick in with the chick that was just about to hatch, side-by-side, and sort of backed out slowly,” said Edwards. “Aurora looked at me and I looked at her… and it’s been working out ever since!”
While the twin chicks — Nebula and Gamora — have had a similar start, they could have very different futures. One twin is currently set to be released into the wild, while the other will remain at the cranedominium in hopes of carrying on the genetic line.