By Jennifer Young

The significance of cranes bridges cultures and centuries.

Koreans have been performing a crane dance at the Tongdosa Temple since the year 646 AD. The Chinese have based many of their Kung Fu fighting techniques on the movements of cranes. Aristotle spoke about how cranes at the source of the Nile carried touchstones. During their heyday, Ottoman soldiers wore a crane feather to signify their heroic performance in battle. A Japanese legend claims that any person who folds 1,000 origami paper cranes will be granted one wish that a magical crane will fulfill. Worldwide, many cultures, including Native Americans, have held the crane in high regard. Yet, the only place you can view all 15 species of these renowned birds is in Baraboo, Wisconsin.

Baraboo’s International Crane Foundation is a distinctive zoo and organization that was founded in 1973. Since 11 of the planet’s 15 crane species are endangered, with some dangerously close to extinction, the foundation travels all over the world to protect native crane populations. The foundation is currently working with almost 50 countries to protect and restore the cranes’ natural habitats and train communities to support the rare birds.


At the Baraboo headquarters, zookeepers create live crane exhibits and foster captive mating programs to help highly endangered species like the whooping crane multiply. The zoo is particularly celebrated for its population of North American whooping cranes and its ongoing work to reintroduce these magnificent creatures to the wild.

The International Crane Foundation boasts a wide range of exhibits, a visitor center, gift shop, and a research library in addition to its breeding facilities. It supports a team of about 80 employees who work at Baraboo headquarters and abroad. Currently, the foundation also features a regional China location and partners with other crane-saving organizations in countries like Cambodia, Zambia, and India.

The zoo welcomes thousands of visitors each year, many of whom include a visit on their way home from or to the Wisconsin Dells. Situated in the rich farmlands of southern Wisconsin, the foundation’s crane zoo features native prairie terrain crossed by hiking trails. The trails usher visitors past crane exhibits and natural water features that are integral to the cranes’ preferred habitat.

Recently, the zoo underwent a major renovation and was scheduled for a grand opening celebration at the end of June 2020. Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, that event has been postponed. Instead, the zoo will reopen when it’s safe for crowds to return. The zoo has been closed for roughly a year while the renovation $10 million project has been ongoing. Many of the renovations are for larger enclosures and more conservation-interpretive exhibits.

For a zen-inspired setting, visit the foundation’s 300 acres and its rare cranes (including blue cranes, red-crowned cranes, and Siberian cranes) once the pandemic subsides. Symbols of joy and longevity in Greek, Roman, and Asian myths, cranes are a sign of good fortune, something everyone could use.