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Last Surviving Siberian Crane Leaves Iran for Breeding Grounds in Siberia

Siberian Crane

Siberian cranes, also known as “snow cranes” or “Siberian white cranes,” are critically endangered birds which are known for their stunning white feathers and extremely long migration routes. Amongst cranes, Siberian cranes undertake the longest migration distances from the tundra of eastern and western Russia to China and Iran. Siberian cranes generally belong to two groups: the population which breeds in eastern Russia and winters in China, and the population which breeds in western Russia and winters in Iran. While both populations are considered critically endangered, the vast majority of Siberian cranes belong to the eastern group. This is true to such an extreme extent that there is currently just one wild Siberian crane remaining in Iran.

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“Omid” is Persian for “hope.” This is fitting for a bird which represents the very last hope for an entire population of Siberian cranes. Omid is a male bird who has wintered in Iran, all by himself, for the last fifteen years. Omid once had a mate named “Arezoo” which means “wish.” The two of them were Iran’s last pair of wintering Siberian cranes when Arezoo passed away fifteen years ago. She was shot down illegally by poachers, which are still a major threat to the ongoing success of this endangered species. Siberian cranes are monogamous and mate for life to such an extent that it is uncommon for them to court a new mate even when the previous one has died. When Arezoo passed away, there were concerns that the Siberian crane population in Iran and western Russia might be doomed.

And then came Rouya. A captive-bred Siberian crane, whose name means “dream” in Persian, Rouya was introduced to Omid as a desperate attempt to form a new mated pair and repopulate the western group of Siberian cranes. Rouya was introduced to Omid in January of 2023. To the delight of everyone involved, Omid began to court Rouya. The pair have been inseparable since their introduction, giving conservationists a long-awaited dose of hope for the fate of the Siberian crane.

Having passed their first test by engaging in courtship and seemingly accepting each other as mates, Rouya and Omid now face their next major step, the roughly three thousand mile migration from Iran to the wetlands of western Russia where they will spend the summer and, hopefully, attempt to breed. Rouya, being captive-raised, has never migrated before. In Siberian cranes, knowledge of the migration route is thought to be passed down from generation to generation via social learning; each young crane learns the route by flying it with their parents. Rouya will have to learn by following Omid, who is the last living bird with knowledge of the western migration route. The continuation of this presumably ancient knowledge rests upon the success of their journey. It is the hope of the conservationists and nature-lovers from around the world who are following their journey, that Omid and Rouya might truly represent the “hope” of a species and the fulfillment of the “dream” of recovery for the Siberian crane.

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