Rescuers save 250 parrots from Pine Island after Hurricane Ian

Will Peratino and his partner Lauren Stepp would not leave their Pine Island compound even as authorities urged residents to evacuate their homes over damaged roads, including a collapsed bridge that prevented the delivery of food, gas and other essential supplies.

But the pair couldn’t leave without their two lemurs and a flock of birds – 275 parrots, including some of the world’s rarest.

So on Tuesday, a rescue mission — dubbed “Operation Noah’s Ark” — was launched to capture the birds, cage them, and ship them off the island as a condition of convincing Peratino and Stepp to leave the island.

“We wouldn’t let them down. I would never leave her. Never,” Stepp said as volunteers worked to collect the herd from dozens of pens at the Malama Manu Sanctuary. “If they cannot be fed or watered, they will die. And I can’t live with that.”

Project Dynamo had already rescued a number of cats, dogs and birds before the operation "Noah's Ark."
Project Dynamo had already saved a number of cats, dogs and birds before Operation Noah’s Ark.

“Malama” is the Hawaiian word for protect, “manu” means bird.

The birds have depended on food donated by wildlife officials since Hurricane Ian, but supplies of fruit, peanuts and other edibles would soon become hard to come by due to the destroyed bridge and the island’s fuel shortages.

Hurricane Ian battered Southwest Florida a week ago with gusts of 150 mph, rendering some roads impassable and islands inaccessible. Wind-driven rains and sea tides brought dangerous flooding.

In the hours leading up to the storm, sanctuary owners rounded up their flocks of birds and packed them into their home to protect them from the ferocity of the elements.

“You don’t know what we’ve been through here. We had four feet of water in the house, almost bloody drowned,” Peratino said before succumbing to tears.

Will Peratino and his partner wouldn't leave their property without all of their birds.
Will Peratino and his partner wouldn’t leave their property without all 275 of their birds.

“Keeping every bird safe is a huge undertaking,” Peratino said. “I mean, that’s almost impossible. So the kind of help we received was invaluable.”

Many of the birds were rescued from homes that could no longer care for them. Some are used to breed rare species.

While the focus of many search and rescue missions has been human life, there have also been animal rescues.

Bryan Stern, the founder and leader of Project Dynamo, which assembled four boats for the mission, said his team rescued at least six dogs, three cats and three birds before Tuesday’s massive rescue.

operation "Noah's Ark" started to rescue Peratino, Stepp, the birds and 2 lemurs.
Operation Noah’s Ark was launched to save Peratino, Stepp, the birds and 2 lemurs.

“Our animal numbers are about to be blown out of the water by 100 parrot cages,” Stern said before embarking on the rescue mission.

“It was crazy,” said James Judge, who owns the boat Slice of Life, which led the small fleet of lifeboats.

“Will and Laura, who own the sanctuary, are passionate about the birds. So they’re suffering from the hurricane themselves,” Stern said, “and they have to rebuild their lives. You’ve lost all sorts of things. Is the answer to lose more?”

The volunteer crew didn’t want to let that happen.

For several hours on Tuesday, the volunteers stuck nets and their bare hands into cages to cage the birds. The birds — from macaws to cockatoos to rare specimens of king parrots (only two dozen pairs are kept in the United States) — screeched and flapped their wings, and their handlers placed them in cages.

Some were whistling and talking, including several using mischievous vocabulary.

Ghassan Abboud, a Chicago dentist who owns a bird farm in West Palm Beach, is an acquaintance of the shelter’s owners. Upon hearing of their plight, he mobilized his resources to help. He had envisioned hiring a small boat to transport cages from Pine Island to a dock on the mainland, where an air-conditioned trailer would transport the birds to his property across the Florida Peninsula.

But by accident, he came across the Project Dynamo team, who have volunteered to help people stranded by floods and damaged roads.

“I could never write a script like this. It was perfect. I thought I’d be back in a little boat all day,” Abboud said. “What these guys did was unimaginable. They dedicated their resources. You saved so many birds.” Rescuers save 250 parrots from Pine Island after Hurricane Ian


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