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The field operation to rescue Kvoter, the Red-crowned crane, successfully ended in Primorye

11 february 2021
Ornithologists from Amur-Ussuri Center for the Study of Birds Biodiversity and the Russian Academy FNTS Biodiversity Feb RAS Russia were supporting the life and security of a Red-crowned crane named Kvoter for more than two months. This rare bird, released from the Muravyevsky Park in Amuskaya Province did not fly to the south but stayed to winter in the northern Primorye. On February 10, the crane was finally captured and taken to the Rehabilitation Center. The rescue operation was supported by WWF.
"In fact, this crane, which lost its way, was saved from death in the snowy and frosty Primorye. The chance that it would survive faded as the ice and frost grew stronger. Now that the difficult field stage of the rescue operation is completed we are confident that Kvoter will winter comfortably in the Rehabilitation Center and will return to nature. WWF Russia will cover the costs of its maintenance. We are very grateful to Sergei Surmach, our partner ornithologist, who shouldered the salvation and catching the bird in harsh field conditions. And we thank his companions and local people who came to help," says Anna Serdyuk, lead coordinator of protected areas project at WWF Russia Amur Branch.
The rescue operation has ended successfully
the pictures are provided by Sergei Surmach

In May 2020, this Red-crowned crane, aged 1.5 years, was released from an aviary in the Muravyevsky Park of Sustainable Nature Management in Amurskaya Province where these rare individuals are bred. The people named it Kvoter and fixed it with a GPS transmitter. According to the researches, Kvoter was supposed to join the flock of his relatives and fly with them to China for the winter. However, after flying alone in Amurskaya Provice until late autumn, on November 8, the bird moved to China, flew almost to Daqing, but then chose a completely different route.

"Kvoter originally flew south, as it should. And, in theory, he was supposed to continue to move on towards southeast China to the Yangtze River. But somehow it turned sharply to the East, within a day crossed 1000 miles and found himself in Primorye almost on the shore of the Sea of Japan on December 5," notes Anton Sasin, staff of AmurSEU, an NGO, the person who participated in the bird’s release and monitored its movement.

As soon as the data from the radio transmitter confirmed that the crane settled in the Dalnegorsky district of Primorye in completely non-typical taiga WWF Russia reported this fact to the hunting supervision service to obtain permits for the removal of the bird.

At the same time near the village of Monomaho right in the field where lost Kvoter was found, researches started the field operation in the waist-deep snow, in snowstorms and frost. The people were remotely observing the bird days and nights, fed and protected it.

The researchers had to live side by side with this crane for two months, and if it were not for the help of local residents, it is still unknown how their titanic efforts would have ended. It was ordinary caring people who first came to help the bird. They laid out corn and went fishing because the crane refused to eat fish from the supermarket.

Further observations of ornithologists showed that the crane fed on the field edge and spends the night near the Krivaya River. But with the arrival of frosts the water began to freeze, the snow covered the remnants of grain which could force the bird to move from its familiar spot thus dooming Kvoter to death. So, catching was inevitable.

Kvoter, the Red-crowned crane
(c) S. Gafitsky
"There are many ways to catch birds. But we needed the most non-traumatic and guaranteed technique. At first, considering that the bird comes from captivity and has already been in contact with people we thought that it would be easy to catch it. And we set ourselves up for a week or two of work using our experience in catching the fish owl. It turned out that everything was very difficult and unexpected. First, the crane had all the skills of a wild bird — it was careful, recognized any threads, noticed each our trick so and all our efforts were in vain. And secondly, the trapping technique that we used earlier simply did not work in these conditions for various reasons, including severe frost. We had to urgently order a hand-held net launcher, adapt to it, remake and modernize it, gain the trust of the bird, teach it to go out into the open, and only then, after two months of our efforts, this last successful attempt took place," says Sergei Surmach.

Good preliminary preparation, a great desire to save the bird and an ordinary, only very large...snowdrift, in which the ornithologist spent two days, have helped to catch the crane.

"At first we made a tent hide but Kvoter reacted badly to it. Therefore, this time we decided to use a high snowdrift which has formed after clearing a place for a feeding ground. We made a hole in it — at night, when the crane did not spend the night in the field — covered it and dusted it with snow, and in this snowdrift I had a hide. Inside it I had to lie as it was impossible to sit there. We fed the crane near this snowdrift a lot and for a long time, he got used to it, and he got used to people, he let the feeders come as сlose as 10 meters. After that, I installed the equipment that allowed me to see what was happening outside using the monitor, and waited. And when Kvoter entered the right frame, in a pre-prepared place in a snowdrift, then it was a matter of technique. What is important is that this capture did not damage or injure the bird, adds Sergei Surmach. — I actually promised Kvoter that we would let it out where there are a lot of cranes, and it would find a good mate. Finally, the bird will be grateful to us for taking him away from this cold field, and then transported it in a box with its legs tied 600 km away to the Rehabilitation Center."

Kvoter was placed in a warm house in the Rehabilitation Center in Alekseevka, Primorye. The house was specially purchased with the support of WWF Russia supporters for keeping these heat-loving rare birds in comfortable conditions.