LAUREL, US: Jane Chandler raises the rarest cranes in the world. For them to have a chance at surviving in the wild, the young birds must never see her face, hear her speak, or know her to be human. If they did, these whooping cranes, named for their characteristic calls, would also come to think of themselves as human. Then they would not find a mate in the wild, or understand the true danger that people represent.

So Chandler dons a disguise whenever she comes near the chicks. Her bird suit is made up of a sheet-like drape that covers her from neck to ankles, and a full white head covering with a camouflage screen hiding her face. She wears a puppet of a crane’s head on one hand, using the beak to pick up food pellets, grapes, mealworms or corn to feed the young birds.

Chandler’s title is Crane Flock Manager at the US Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, and on a crisp morning in November, her charge was a group of 11 juveniles. Nearly six months old, they stand about three feet (one meter) high. Their heads and wings are light brown, a hue that will fade as they become adults, giving way to sleek white plumes, black-tipped wings and a scarlet crown.–AFP