Hurricane Ian: Volunteers on Florida Island Catch and Relocate 275 Parrots

by Amy Myers
Photo by John Parra/Getty Images for SOBEWFF®

Among the Florida residents to suffer the consequences of Hurricane Ian are the feathered friends of Malama Manu Sanctuary. Thanks to volunteers and caretakers, though, nearly 300 parrots will be on their way to safety.

Two of the selfless individuals that elected to stay behind to help the animals were Will Peratino and his partner Lauren Stepp of Pine Island. Even as roads and bridges collapsed and the rest of the area evacuated, the two could not leave these beautiful birds behind. So, they sought to save 275 parrots (and two lemurs) despite the risk to their own safety and packed them all into their home. On Tuesday, they launched rescue mission “Operation Noah’s Arc” and soon, fellow animal lovers came to help with the relocation.

“We would not abandon them. I would never leave them. Never,” Stepp told AP News. “If they cannot be fed or watered, they will die. And I can’t live with that.”

As Stepp expressed her dedication, volunteers worked tirelessly to load the animals from the sanctuary’s dozens of coops and enclosures.

The Hurricane Ian rescue effort has not been without risk. In fact, the pair nearly became victims of the storm, themselves.

“You don’t know what we’ve been through here. We had four feet of water in the house, damn-near drowned,” Peratino said, trying to hold back tears.

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

The name Malama Malu derives from the Hawaiian language and loosely translates to “protect bird.”

Volunteers Load Parrots onto Boats For Relocation Post Hurricane Ian

Among the volunteers to lend a hand was Bryan Stern, the founder and leader of Project Dynamo, which focused primarily on rescuing pets and animals in need in Florida. Stern helped organize a small flotilla of four boats to transport six dogs, three cats and three additional birds to the sanctuary’s 275.

“Our animal numbers are about to be blown out of the water by 100 cages of parrots,” Stern said, prior to the rescue.

“It’s been nuts,” said James Judge, who owns the boat “Slice of Life” and helped lead the flotilla.

In order to get the birds into their proper cages, volunteers used thin nets and their own hands to usher the parrots. In the end, the chaos and uncertainty were worth it to see all birds safe and sound.

“Will and Laura, who own the sanctuary, their hearts and souls are in the birds. So they’re going through their own suffering from the hurricane, and having to rebuild their lives,” Stern added. “They lost all kinds of stuff. Is the answer to that to lose more?”