An unusual tropical bird that was found washed up on a beach in Sussex has been flown 5,000 miles home in time for Christmas.
The red-footed booby bird, now nicknamed Norman, is normally a resident of sunnier climes across the Caribbean but was rescued after he was found bedraggled on a pebble beach in St Leonards by passer-by Gail Cohen on September 4.
He was very underweight and dehydrated when he was rescued by East Sussex Wildlife Rescue Ambulance Service, who transferred him to RSPCA Mallydams Wood wildlife centre, in East Sussex, where he has been intensive care ever since.
Spending his days under a special heat lamp to keep him warm in the drizzly and cold British weather, Norman has been nursed back to health on a diet of sprats - a type of small fish.
Now the RSPCA has joined forces with British Airways and IAG Cargo to make sure the young bird, the first recorded red-footed booby in the UK, makes his way back to a flock of fellow boobies almost 5,000 miles away in the Cayman Islands.
Wildlife rehabilitation team manager at the centre Richard Thompson said: “It is just fantastic to see Norman make his way home after the team here have worked so hard nursing him back to health and full strength.
“We are used to dealing with native seabirds here - like gulls and terns - but he is the first booby bird we have ever seen here at the RSPCA and the UK. It is amazing to think we’ve had a hand in his care.”
He said: “Norman has done so well - especially when you consider how weak and dehydrated he was when he came in. We have been keeping a close eye on him along the way and keeping him warm with heat lamps.
“We have done everything possible looking after him to build his weight up and keep his strength up to prepare him for his long journey home.”
Norman was taken to London Heathrow Airport yesterday (Thursday, December 15) and jetted off on a 12-hour flight to his new home at a nature reserve in the Cayman Islands.
RSPCA wildlife vet Barbara Watson flew alongside Norman to keep an eye on his progress and carry out vet checks before and after the flight.
Barbara said: “I never imagined in my career I would be asked to treat a booby bird as they have never been seen over here before.
“It is so wonderful to be able to take Norman back to the wild where he belongs. It will be fantastic to see him in among other birds just like him which is how it should be.
“It is incredible to think how he got to the south coast of England - I don’t think we will ever really know how - but it is amazing and we are really grateful to everyone that has had a hand in helping him to get him back home safely.”
Gabriella Tamasi, live animals product manager at IAG Cargo, said: “It has been an honour to be entrusted with the transportation of Norman and we have really enjoyed working closely with the RSPCA, British Airways and James Cargo Services.
“Not only does this shipment highlight the air cargo industry’s important role in the protection of endangered species, but this specific shipment also illustrates the versatility of our Live Animals product and the strength of IAG Cargo’s network supported by its sister partner British Airways. ”
Captain Shaun Griffiths, who flew the BA0253 from Heathrow to Grand Cayman, said: “All of our customers are special, and despite having flown a number of VIPs before Norman is by far the most unusual. The beaches of the Cayman Islands are some of the most beautiful in the world and we are thrilled he can start the new year in the sunshine.”
Following his epic journey home, Norman is now due to spend 30 days in quarantine before he is released to join other booby birds and start his new life at the reserve.
Norman’s full and journey will feature on the BBC 1’s The One Show next month.
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