Rescuers flock to save 275 parrots stranded by Hurricane Ian

Birds rescued from Pine Island sanctuary after owners refused to leave them

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Will Peratino and his partner Lauren Stepp would not leave their Pine Island compound, despite authorities pleaded with residents to abandon their homes because of damaged roads.

They included a collapsed bridge that was preventing deliveries of food, gas and other life-sustaining supplies.

But the couple could not leave without their two lemurs and flock of birds — 275 parrots, including some of the world's rarest.

So a rescue mission — dubbed “Operation Noah's Ark” — was launched on Tuesday to catch, cage and ferry the birds off the island, as a condition for Mr Peratino and Ms Stepp leaving the island.

“We would not abandon them. I would never leave them. Never,” said Ms Stepp, as volunteers collected the flock from dozens of coops at the Malama Manu Sanctuary.

“If they cannot be fed or watered, they will die. And I can’t live with that."

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

The birds have been relying on food donated by wildlife officials since Hurricane Ian hit.

But the supply of fruit, peanuts and other edibles would soon be hard to come by with the bridge being down and the scarcity of petrol on the island.

Hurricane Ian battered south-west Florida a week ago with 250kph gusts, making some roads impassable and islands inaccessible. Heavy rain and wind-driven ocean surges brought dangerous flooding.

In the hours before the storm, the sanctuary owners herded their flock of birds and packed them into their home to shield 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, damned near drowned," Mr Peratino said, before succumbing to tears.

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

“To have every bird safe is a huge undertaking,” Mr Peratino said. “I mean, it's almost impossible to do. So the kind of help we've gotten has been invaluable.”

Ghassan Abboud, who owns a bird farm in West Palm Beach, is an acquaintance of the sanctuary owners. When he heard of their plight, he mustered his resources to help.

Mr Abboud had imagined commissioning a small boat to ferry cages from Pine Island to a dock on the mainland, where an air-conditioned trailer would take them to his property across the Florida peninsula.

But by chance he came across the Project Dynamo team, who have been volunteering to help rescue people stranded by floods and damaged roads. Project Dynamo assembled four boats and launched their mission.

“I could never write a script like this. It was perfect," Mr Abboud said. "I thought I'd be back all day long in a small boat.

"What these guys have done has been unimaginable. They dedicated their resources. They saved so many birds."

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Updated: October 05, 2022, 10:10 PM
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