When Fred Quarles organized a cadre of volunteer pilots to help victims of hurricanes Rita and Katrina, he had no idea he’d encounter the wrath of people who didn’t like the relocation of pet reptiles.
It wasn’t that the critters — two alligators and two caymans — were difficult passengers, said Quarles. “They are small,” he said. “The caymans are seven to eight pounds and the gators two to three pounds. They were transported to safety in Virginia with the mouths taped shut.”
But alligators and caymans are considered exotic animals and are not legal to possess in Virginia, so plans were made to take the animals to Florida. That’s when a rumor got out that the animals were going to be returned to the swamps of Florida.
Quarles found himself fielding complaints from people who objected to the idea of the non-native caymans entering the fragile ecosystem and the idea of former pets being released into the wild.
“But neither is going to happen,” he said. “The alligators are going to a place called Gatorland near Orlando and the caymans are going to Outpost Everglades in Homestead, Fla.”
Both are animal sanctuaries.
As this issue was going to press, permits for the flights were acquired and plans were being made for the trips. The reptiles are expected to be in their new homes by mid-February.
The reptile controversy is the latest chapter in the saga of volunteer pilots who took part in “Operation Teacup” after Hurricane Katrina. The name came from the image of thousands of volunteer pilots pitching in and trying to drain a swamp with teacups, according to Quarles.
Pilots volunteered their time and paid their own way to make the airlift happen. Their missions included flying the sick and disabled to safety.
Quarles, a pilot for 45 years who operates an international aircraft delivery service, created Operation Teacup from his base in Charlottesville, Va. He called on the membership of PilotShareTheRide.com, started by Baldy Ivy of Seligman, Ariz., to help find volunteer pilots. More than 3,000 pilots are members of Pilot Share The Ride, which helps pilots share the expenses and fun of flying.