In 1941, a single dwindling flock of 15 whooping cranes remained in the entire world. But thanks to a novel conservation organization, Operation Migration, there are well over 500 of the still-endangered birds gliding through the skies.

It just took a little work to teach them how.

The organization's lead pilot and CEO, Joseph “Joe” Duff, and select members of his 11-person staff dress up in "baggy-suited" outfits meant to disguise their human features, and raise the birds in captivity until they’re ready to fly south... Just like in the movie 'Fly Away Home!'

And here's where it gets really interesting: The birds literally follow Duff, who leads the flock via a special plane, along new migratory paths. The ultimate goal: Build several flocks to seal a future for the species.

"They have a natural instinct to imprint on the first thing that nurtures them, and we make sure that’s us," says Duff. "The costume we wear is designed to disguise the human form, and we carry a puppet that looks like an adult whooping crane, so when they’re released and encounter humans in normal dress, they’re afraid of them. That way, they remain wild birds, which is critical."

Read the rest of the interview by Nora Zelevansky over at Vetstreet.

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