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Sandhill Crane Death in Heber Not Under Investigation

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

Last Friday, officers from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources shot and killed a sandhill crane that was pecking cars at the Rivers Edge, a Heber Valley campground offering RV sites, cabins and yurts.

The bird’s death prompted an outcry from witnesses. Faith Jolley, public information officer for the DWR, said the bird was euthanized, and the shooting was an unfortunate necessity due to evidence that the bird and its mate were ill.

"One of our conservation officers received report on Friday of a sandhill crane that was causing damage to a vehicle, and then the officer later discovered it was actually his personal vehicle," Jolley said. "And during further investigation, he learned that another residence vehicle had also been damaged by that same bird. So our our officer contacted our veterinarian, and also some USU veterinarians that are kind of avian specialists. And both of those parties basically confirmed that the birds could potentially be exhibiting symptoms common with neurological disease, such as West Nile or some kind of toxin ingestion. The recommendation was made that the bird and its mate euthanized and a necropsy performed to investigate why they're acting abnormally."

Jolly said use of firearms is standard for animal euthanasia, and sandhill cranes are not an endangered species. The veterinarians the DWR consulted recommend both birds be euthanized, but when the first was shot, its mate flew away

She said the DWR officer whose car was being pecked was not involved in the euthanasia, and added that no officers are under investigation related to the incident.

The bird was delivered to a lab for a necropsy to test for disease and toxins.

A representative of River’s Edge declined to discuss the events until after receiving results of the bird’s necropsy. Those results may be available Friday.

Jolley said she understood the euthanasia was upsetting for residents and visitors at the camp, but that officers followed the DWR’s protocols.

"They informed the camp host prior to their arrival that they would be euthanizing the sandhill crane to prevent any further vehicle damage, public property damage, and also due to those potential disease concerns," she said. "We never enjoy euthanizing wildlife. All of our staff got into this industry because we do love wildlife. So it is always unfortunate when we do have to be euthanize. But you know, despite these cranes potentially being habituated to kind of being around people in this campground area, it's important to remember they are still wild animals and they can be dangerous if they kind of lose that fear of people. We know that this was upsetting. This was a difficult experience for many of those wildlife enthusiasts because they they've grown to love these birds. You know, it was unfortunate that they had to hear the sound of the gun."

Jolley said that anyone noticing unusual behavior in animals, such as aggressiveness or lack of fear of humans, should contact the DWR since those behaviors may be a sign of animal illness.