Remember when Russian President Vladimir Putin donned a white jumpsuit and flew an ultralight aircraft
to lead a small group of endangered cranes on their southward migration?
Early last month, the president took off from the Yamalo-Nenetsk Autonomous Region to show the orphaned chicks the route south. His stunt was widely covered -- and ridiculed -- both in Russia and abroad.
Almost immediately, though, there were reports
that two of the rare birds had died during the preparations for Putin's flight. "Many" others were reportedly injured.
After Putin returned to Moscow, the plan was for researchers to lead them to Tyumen Oblast, where they would meet up with a flock of wild cranes and join them on their flight to their wintering ground in Central Asia.
If all went well, it would mean a significant boost for the rare species, as Russian scientists estimate there are fewer than two dozen of the birds in the wild.
But Russia's State Nature Inspectorate reported on October 10
that six of the seven cranes that made it to Tyumen Oblast failed to bond with their wild cousins. Who knows? Maybe they were acting all stuck up because they got to meet the president.
Whatever the reason, the wild birds took off without them. The young orphans and their handlers had to take a plane back to the nature reserve where they were born in Ryazan Oblast, about 200 kilometers away from Moscow. They'll spend the winter there. Maybe the president can visit them.
One of "Putin's cranes," though, did join the wild flock and fly about 500 kilometers with them to Kazakhstan, according to presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov.
Unfortunately, the story doesn't end happily. Peskov said the flock was set upon by wild dogs. The wild birds sensed the danger and took off, but the hand-raised bird was attacked and very nearly killed.
But, Peskov continued, the youngster was saved by some local residents, who reported the find to the chairman of the Kazakh Forestry Committee, who "intuitively knew" that it was Putin's bird.
Russian scientists plan to fly to Kazakhstan on October 11 and bring that last bird home to roost as well.
-- Robert Coalson