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      Wildlife agencies determine whooping cranes were shot

      Update: This story has been updated with information about the reward being offered. Click here to read the update.

      The Georgia Department of Natural Resources reports the three dead whooping cranes found Dec. 30th were shot with guns. DNR officials say it is a crime to shoot any animal that is endangered.

      According to DNR, shooting an endangered animal is a Class B Misdemeanor with six months of jail time and a $25,000 fine. Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, it would also be a Class B Misdemeanor with six months in jail and a $15,000 fine.

      DNR says hunters found the three endangered birds just west of Albany on December 30th. They say a landowner reported that the cranes had been living in the area for a few weeks before they were found dead.

      DNR says they are offering a $12,500 reward for anyone with knowledge on the whooping crane deaths that leads to an arrest or prosecution. If you have information, call the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at 404-763-7959 and talk with Special Agent Terry Hasting at extension 233.

      Whooping cranes have a special classification according to officials with Operation Migration. They say the cranes are endangered but registered as "threatened non-endangered."

      According to DNR, the cranes are part of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership project to reintroduce the endangered birds into the eastern United States. These three cranes were released in October 2010 with seven other first-year birds in Wisconsin as part of the Direct Autumn Release program.

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      The whooping cranes are one of the most critically endangered bird species in the United States, says Chehaw Zoo Director Kevin Hils.

      Hils says there are two main migration paths for the whooping cranes. Operation Migration officials say the flock of 96 that fly south from Wisconsin make a stop in Southwest Georgia on their way to Florida.

      He says planes with Operation Migration lead the endangered birds to help them learn the path.

      This story has been updated with information about the reward being offered. Click here to read the update.