Steve Baynes was near a subdivision just outside the Florida Everglades on Saturday when he realized he’d done something uncharacteristic of a Disney employee: He’d forgotten his costume.
No, Baynes was not about to make an appearance as Mickey, Minnie or Pluto. He was on his way to rescue Tussock, an injured whooping crane.
The crane was hatched in 2012 at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo and flew out of the Horicon nature preserve in November with a group of five birds.
Tussock was wearing a radio transmitter that allowed ICF staff to track her journey. Every five days, they received an email notification of her whereabouts.
“All the sudden we noticed she was hanging out someplace else on the edge of this urban development, which was unusual,” said Anne Lacy, a research coordinator with ICF.
Supporters from a network called the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership volunteered to head toward the site and collect the injured bird.
But Baynes, an employee with Disney’s Animal Kingdom outside Orlando, and his coworker, Scott Tidwell, forgot to pick up their crane costumes on the way out of town.
ICF employees who hand-raise endangered cranes and introduce them into the wild wear crane costumes so the birds do not become accustomed to human interaction.
So what did Baynes and Tidwell do when they realized they hadn’t dressed for the occasion? They improvised.
Joining them on scene was Jeanette Parker, who previously worked for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. She had a pillow case and a sheet.
Baynes donned the white apparel and they slowly began to lure Tussock in with grapes, which cranes find irresistible.
Eventually, Baynes captured the crane and placed a hood over her head to keep her from panicking. The crane underwent surgery the next day to remove her middle right toe.
Something had wrapped around it and cut off blood flow, which caused the toe to shrivel up and die. The injury rendered Tussock immobile.
“Unfortunately, like other wildlife, it’s way too common for cranes to get tangled in something like fishing line,” Lacy said.
Tussock is currently being cared for at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. ICF staff, along with their Florida partners, will decide within the next week whether she can be released again with another group of cranes.