This was not my first close encounter with a wild Alaskan bear. Each meeting was a visceral experience, evoking wonder, awe and fear. The beasts were ever breathtaking, yet deadly. All sinew, fur and teeth, these were nature’s most ruthless hunting machines.
The beast before me was a polar bear. Ursus maritimus, the lethal arctic ghost. My mind raced, my pulse quickened. What to do? Fight or flight? Play dead? No, there could be only choice: the baby bottle.
Alright, I’m no Steve Irwin. Or Jim Fowler. I’m not even Marlin Perkins, who sat in the Wild Kingdom TV studio while Jim did all the dangerous stuff in the field. My previous Alaska bear encounters were in a hotel parking lot and behind a fence at a wildlife refuge. But I did see them, they were close, and the legends will continue to grow!
But back to the polar bear cub. She’s fierce, as in fiercely adorable. Her name is Qannik (pronounced Ken-nick), which is native for Snowflake. It’s also the name of the oil field where she was found. She’s five months old, weighs 50 pounds, has soft white fur and black button eyes; and UPS just helped move her from Alaska to Louisville, Ky.
Qannik somehow got lost from her mother in mid-April near Alaska’s northern coast. Alaska Fish and Wildlife experts rescued her and took her to the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage until they could find a permanent home for her.
After a rigorous, global selection process, that home was determined to be the new Glacier Run arctic exhibit at the Louisville Zoo.
Of course, that created a Qannik quandary. How would this endangered little bear travel several thousand miles from Anchorage to Louisville? Well, it just so happens that Louisville is the home of UPS Airlines. And Anchorage is UPS Airlines’ jumping off point for Asia. We fly multiple jumbo jets between the two cities every day.
Now, ordinarily, we only ship living things under very specific conditions. But we do love a logistical challenge and a good cause. So, we decided to make a rare exception and agreed to move the cub to Louisville. Under the code name Operation Snowflake, UPS assembled a team of about 20 logistics experts, ranging from veterinarians to pilots to load handling experts.
Led, by my esteemed colleague Jackie Blair, the team spent a feverish three weeks coordinating a myriad of details: finding and assembling safe crating for Qannik; creating a 30,000-foot den suitable for a 747-400; devising special handling methods; scheduling the aircraft; determining special flight routing; obtaining government permits; arranging security; shipping veterinary supplies, etc., etc. etc.
Have you ever sat in a meeting about absorbing pads for in-flight bear urine? I now have.
I’ve also had the privilege of working with many of the logistics experts on the team for years, so I knew every detail of Qannik’s big adventure would be properly addressed. And they were.
On June 27, we gently put Qannik in her portable den at Alaska Zoo, caravanned her to the UPS cargo facility at the Anchorage airport, and put her aboard our polar bear express flight to Louisville. Qannik spent the 5 ½ hour trip resting comfortably in her crate, arriving at Worldport, our international air hub, at about 2 a.m.
After we arrived in Louisville, the precious package was delivered to her new Kentucky home at the Louisville Zoo, where Qannik will be in quarantine for a short time before enjoying the southern hospitality of her state-of-the-art exhibit.
As for my next outdoor adventure? My wife says it’ll probably involve a lawnmower and the tall grass in the backyard.
Interested in more on the polar bear cub and how we moved her? Check out the attached video.
|Category:||Caring for Communities, Logistics|
|Tags:||747-400, Airlines, Alaska, Alaskia Zoo, Anchorage, bear, logistics, Louisville Zoo, polar bear, Qannik|