October 10, 2022

In the backstories of the US$billions of damages and loss of more than 75 lives from Hurricane Ian last week was an article about a flock of parrots that were saved from one of the outer islands.  Will Peratino and Lauren Stepp refused to leave their Pine Island refuge while authorities pleaded with residents because of damaged roads and a collapsed bridge that prevented deliveries of food, gas, and life-sustaining supplies.  The couple would not leave without their two lemurs and a flock of 275 parrots, including some of the world’s rarest.  The birds have been relying on food donated by wildlife officials since Ian hit, but the supply of fruit, peanuts and other edibles were becoming hard to come by because of the downed bridge and the scarcity of gasoline.  A rescue mission (dubbed “Operation Noah’s Ark”) was launched by Project Dynamo Tuesday to catch, cage, and ferry the birds off the island to persuade the couple to leave.  The parrots ranged from macaws to cockatoos to rare specimens of king parrots of which there are only two dozen known pairs in the US.

When I looked online, I found the Parrots (Psittacines) are birds of the roughly 398 species in 92 genera comprising the order Psittaciformes and found mostly in tropical and subtropical regions.  One-third of all parrot species are threatened by extinction, which is a higher aggregate extinction risk (IUCN Red List Index) than any other comparable bird group.  Parrots have a pantropical distribution, but several species inhabit the temperate regions in the Southern Hemisphere.  The greatest diversity of parrots is in South America and Australasia.  Characteristic features of parrots include a strong, curved bill, an upright stance, strong legs, and clawed feet with two toes pointing forward and two backward (zygodactyl).  Many parrots are vividly colored, and some are multi-colored.  Most parrots exhibit little or no visible sexual dimorphism (look the same).  They form the most variably sized bird order in terms of length.  The diets of most parrots are seeds, nuts, fruit, buds, and other plant material.

The Malama Manu Sancuary where the parrots lived has rescued many of their birds from homes that could no longer care for them, and some are used for breeding rare species.  The sanctuary is named from two Hawaiian words, “Malama” the word for protect and “manu” meaning bird.  In the hours before the storm, the sanctuary owners herded their flock of parrots and packed them into their home to shield them from the force of the elements.  Had they been left in their sanctuary cages they would have all been underwater.  While the focus of many search and rescue missions has been on human life, there have been pet rescues.  Bryan Stern, the founder and leader of Project Dynamo, said his team had already rescued at least six dogs, three cats, and three birds.  When asked why they performed the rescue, the director said, “We would not abandon them . . . If they cannot be fed or watered, they will die. And I can’t live with that.”  Obviously, this rescue skewed the numbers.

THOUGHTS:  When I lived in California’s Bay Area a rescue center was built for stray dogs and cats at the cost of over US$6 million.  This featured separate wings (one dogs, one cats) with separate rooms (not cages) for each animal and a communal play space for exercise.  The center was built entirely by donation.  Humans have a strong desire to give and receive affection and our pets freely give and are easy to love.  Animals have a positive effect on us and activate our feel-good hormones (oxytocin system) associated with empathy, trust, and relationship building.  Our pets make us feel better whether they are dogs, cats, birds, and yes, even reptiles.  We need to find the same level and compassion for other humans.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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