The article in the March Smithsonian about the half a million sandhill cranes that gather every year on the Platte River in Nebraska to dance and fuel up on waste corn for the journey to their arctic and sub-arctic nesting grounds, some as far away as Siberia, has had a much greater impact that either Melissa Groo, who took the stunning photographs for it, or I expected. The Nebraska Chamber of Commerce, which facilitated our visit to Fort Kearney, estimated it was worth two million dollars worth of publicity in terms of promoting crane tourism. George Percy of Geiger Associates, a Tallahassee-based outfit that puts together media tours to interesting destinations in the U.S., whose Fort Kearney tour we started our reporting safari on, emails : “Like you, I have read many books and articles about the cranes, but your coverage is some of the very best. Thanks for such a nice job. I’ve heard a lot of Nebraskans say that they’ve been very blase about the cranes for years but your article made them realize (again) what a treasure they are– and it’s struck them as a source of pride it’s in their state.” Mary Ann Anderson, one of the other writers on George’s tour, emails : “I was one of the writers on the (frozen) trip last year to Nebraska to see the cranes. My article was syndicated through McClatchy-Tribune Information Services a few weeks back and was picked up by dozens of newspapers…. I … read it [the Smithsonian piece], and sighed deeply…. your writing was simply outstanding and perhaps some of the best I’ve ever read. I can say no more than that about your gift. (Oh, except the photography was breathtaking, too.)”
Bill Taddicken, the director of the National Audubon’s Rowe Sanctuary, where we had our first experience of the staging cranes, emails : “I have spoken to three couples so far that said they came here because of the Smithsonian article. That alone is pretty amazing this early. One couple jumped on a train in northern California on a whim after reading the article.”
And the visionary conservation biologist Thomas Lovejoy, who introduced the term biological diversity [subsequently shortend to biodiversity] to the scientific community in l980 and went on to put together the debt-for-nature swap strategy for saving tropical rain forests and to do the semininal minimum critical size of ecosystem study in the Brazilian rain forest and started out as an ornithologist, getting the data for his phd from a platform in the canopy of the rain forest outside of Belem, emailed after reading the article, “You do have great adventures that do good for the world.”
So in terms of trying to do justice to one of the great migratory assemblages in nature, and of making Americans realize the wonders within our own borders and getting people to care about the other miraculous and magical life forms we share the planet with, mission accomplished. More adventures to come !
p.s. no sooner did I post this, when this email arrived from Jeff Flocken, North American Regional Director of IFAW, the International Fund for Animal Welfare : ” So I was catching up on my Smithsonian Magazine reading on a flight back to DC, and was thrilled to come across your article on sandhill cranes. I’m a big fan of all cranes, and it was both an excellent article and fantastic photos. Great job to both of you.”