It's a rare thing for a pelican to have a name, and rarer still that that name would be inspired by a strip club -- but Ralph's life has been full of such unlikelihoods in recent months. Last August, the brown pelican from Florida was going about his business when he was swept up by hurricane Earl and blown some 1400 miles to the north, finally settling on the roof of Ralph's Place, an adult-entertainment venue in Halifax, Canada. Now, after six months of being stuck north of the border, thanks to one helpful volunteer, Ralph will soon be heading home.In a twist of fate, someone spotted the distressed pelican as he landed on the strip club -- and that person happened to be Hope Swinimer, the founder of The Hope for Wildlife Society in Nova Scotia. Since September, rescue staff has been taking care of Ralph, feeding him plenty of fish and keeping him warm throughout the cold Canadian winter.
According to The Chronicle Herald, the society had originally intended to get Ralph on a commercial flight back to his warmer native climes, but U.S. regulations made it too difficult for that to happen. Swinimer and her team next tried to find someone with a private plane to take him home across the border -- that is, until local resident Garry Sowerby volunteered to make the long drive with the bird as passenger.
"It'll be a bit of a smelly drive, but I think I can deal with that," he says.
Sowerby is no stranger to unusual roadtrips; he's literally driven around the world, breaking records in the process. To him, returning Ralph to the United States by car just makes a lot more sense than flying him there.
"That's a lot of money for anybody (and) that's a big carbon footprint to get a little bird down south," he told The Chronicle Herald. "I thought, 'Gee, if we could do it with an (ethanol-powered vehicle), it would be almost the same as him flying down there (himself), in terms of the carbon footprint.'"
After six months as a stranger in Canada, the wayward pelican and his volunteer chauffeur plan to start their journey south in about two weeks, heading for Ralph's new home at a wildlife sanctuary in North Carolina.
To some, the life of a single pelican shouldn't warrant such a concerted effort to save it -- they are, after all, not a threatened or endangered species -- but, perhaps it's only fitting that a positive human influence intervenes to counter the negative. Scientists have confirmed that powerful storms, like the one that carried Ralph 1400 miles from Florida, are actually the result of warming oceans, and subsequently, a warmer planet which has resulted from our unrelenting use of fossil fuel.
These more intense natural phenomenons, of course, aren't the only things affecting pelicans. Thousands of Ralph's feathered brethren perished month earlier in the Gulf of Mexico, from one of the world's worst environmental disasters, the BP oil spill.
So, in many ways, one might expect that a story about a bird from Florida blown so far from where he belongs would likely be a sad one -- but fortunately, it would seem a distressed animal can't travel too far without encountering folks willing to keep it safe and warm before finally bringing it home. Along that bumpy journey through hundreds of miles and across international borders, one brown pelican ended up with a name -- and in some way or another, I suspect the rest of us received something far more important that that; a lesson on compassion, gentility, and how nature can persevere when offered something as simple as a helping hand from the rooftop of a nudie-club.