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Drawing by Sarah Clausen For The Whooping Crane A Modest Proposal By Bill Helmer Chicago, ill. IHARBOR no ill toward whooping cranes. I don’t even know any. But turning partial control of Matagorda Island over to the Texas Parks Commission appears to be a sound first step in getting these finicky, melancholy birds off the Federal dole. For their own good, I should add. Back in 1974 we gave them a perfectly good Air Force bombing range and they’ve been spoiled ever since. I’ve been following the whooping crane crisis \(mostly in The New York Times, which is a real sucker for oryears now. Every two or three months there’s another alarmist article or filler item reporting that one of our cranes is missing, that one has laid an egg but stepped on it, that one is losing its feathers, looking a little peaked, refusing to migrate or mate or tend its nest or something. And that the nation’s bird freaks are all in a snit about it, demanding more concessions from the government. This is a bunch of bleeding-heart bushwa! There’s nothing wrong with the damn whooping cranes that a little real trouble wouldn’t cure. As it is, they’re being pampered into extinction. We’re dealing here with what certainly must be the world’s most contrary and neurotic bird one that refuses to eat right, refuses to mate \(hell, everything save its own miserable hide. Let’s ask ourselves why. I’ll tell you why. It doesn’t take care of itself because it’s being constantly fussed over by every cock-eyed conservationist in the country, and it likes the attention. Just as government hand-outs have been spoiling all the poor people, years and years of doting paternalism have destroyed the whooper’s initiative and turned it into a’ narcissistic, self important, perverse parasite that thinks the world owes it a living. It doesn’t have any real problems, so it becomes acutely sensitive to the slightest inconvenience, the most insignificant hardship. Just look at one cross-eyed and the damn thing keels over dead. I read somewhere that the suicide rate in London fell dramatically during the Blitz, the explanation being that life becomes precious in the face of real physical danger. As Churchill himself once put it, “The most exhilarating thing in life is to be shot at, without result.” Everybody knows that broken bones mend faster than broken hearts. It’s the physical versus the psychological. For instance, I’ve got a 14-year-old kid who breaks out in hives at the prospect of doing dishes, collapses under the weight of a garbage sack, but will bicycle five miles up hill in a blizzard to blow his allowance on a new BMX part. It’s all a matter of motivation. Which is what the whooping cranes need. whoopers apparently read the papers, we plant a wire-service story that reports they’ve been scratched off the endangered-species list; maybe explain that severe economic cutbacks no longer permit the fish-and-game people to keep on subsidizing a bunch of selfdestructive, suicidal birds. Cite the triage principle, and say that all future assistance must go to the bald eagle, which looks like a better bet for survival. Something like that. Then we announce that whooping cranes may now be hunted with BB guns by anyone under 16. And that the Air Force is going to resume bombing and strafing Matagorda Island, with occasional passes over the Aransas Federal Game Refuge. For good measure we’ll get out some bumper stickers that say things like Eat More Crane and The Only Good Whooper Is A Dead Whooper. I don’t know what deep-fat-fried whooping crane would taste like, but we might put up some huge billboards around the nesting grounds bearing a picture of smiling Colonel Sanders and the cryptic slogan, “Finger-lickin’ good!” This campaign is bound to freak out the whoopers good and proper. A few of them will no doubt blow their fuses and topple over, beak first, into the mud, trying to drum up sympathy. But if we ignore such cheap dramatics, the rest are going to realize that the game is up. From now on, baby, it’s root, hog, or die. Yes, indeed. Once these temperamental creatures hear the bullets snapping around their ears, they’re go ing to eat out there and get humping, breeding instead of brooding. There’s nothing like some clear and present danger to stimulate the old survival instinct. Soon we’ll have the male whoopers hustling the feathers off every broad around, like combat troops between battles; and you can bet there’ll be no more time for coyness and frigidity on the part of the ladies. If things get really tough, they’ll be damned happy to stay in their nests, incubating those eggs, protecting those chicks, while the menfolk stand guard and fly dangerous reconnaisance missions. And before you know it, we’ll be up to necks in whooping cranes millions of them, swaggering around those East Texas swamps terrorizing the alligators, taking flight in such numbers as to blot out the sun and raise terrible windstorms with the beating of their mighty wings. After that, if it still seems like a good idea, we can further improve the breed by spraying DDT. Within ten years the threat of extinction will be forgotten, and the country will be stewing over the problem of whooping crane control. Observer contributing writer Bill Helmer is a Playboy Magazine stmt writer. 21 THE TEXAS OBSERVER ,