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Hope Swinimer feeds "Ralph" some fish at the Hope for Wildlife Society in Seaforth,, NS, February 20, 2011. The pelican was blown to Nova Scotia during Hurricane Earl. (Paul Darrow for The Globe an Mail/Paul Darrow for The Globe an Mail)
Hope Swinimer feeds "Ralph" some fish at the Hope for Wildlife Society in Seaforth,, NS, February 20, 2011. The pelican was blown to Nova Scotia during Hurricane Earl. (Paul Darrow for The Globe an Mail/Paul Darrow for The Globe an Mail)

The pelican grief: An American bird's exile in Canada Add to ...

Ralph has had a rough time.

The U.S. resident entered Canada by accident and turned up, weak and dehydrated, at a Halifax-area strip club. Well-wishers who sheltered and nursed him back to health over the months have tried in vain to get Ralph home. But they haven't been able to sort out the paperwork he needs to cross back over the border.

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Although his story has the air of an epic stag party, with an awkward explanation needed once that homecoming finally happens, Ralph the pelican has started to enjoy himself in Canada. He's well fed and has a sunny home. And his visit here may yet be capped with a luxury trip to warmer climes.

Supporters of the wayward young bird recently put out a call for donated space on a private plane to take Ralph, who was swept here by Hurricane Earl last fall, to a sanctuary in North Carolina, where he could be prepared to re-enter wild life.

Hope Swinimer, director of the Hope for Wildlife Society near Halifax, said that the unusual request stems from a change in U.S. rules. The last time a pelican turned up lost they shipped it home as air cargo. That cost only $86 and they were hoping Ralph, named for the strip bar where he was found, would go back the same way.

But just as the rules have been changing for human travellers, requiring customs pre-clearance at many airports before leaving to the United States, animals are now pre-screened too. The officials necessary to clear Ralph aren't stationed in Halifax. However, he could fly across the border by private plane, taking advantage of different entry rules for these aircraft.

There were hints on the weekend that a multinational corporation with a Maritime presence could offer space on its jet. But that hasn't been firmed up. Ms. Swinimer warned that whoever accepts the task has to be ready for a dirty job.

"Ralph eats fish all day long and he goes to the bathroom whenever he wants, and he smells bad," she said Sunday. "If someone's going to take this on they have to come out here and see what the reality is and what he smells like."

The smell is noticeable even to a veteran wildlife caregiver such as Ms. Swinimer. And some first-timers who get up close describe the reek as similar to rotten herring or unwashed fish bins left out in the sun.

Another possible transport solution is the offer by a local man to drive Ralph to the United States.

Garry Sowerby, a record-setting endurance driver, had heard about the desire to fly the bird and thought it seemed a lot of money and pollution for a single pelican. He said Sunday he'd take the bird down as long as he can borrow a low-emission vehicle for the purpose.

"I'd like to kind of do a green run for him," said Mr. Sowerby, explaining he would tack the errand onto a business trip next month. "All the problems in this world, is [it]going to upset people spending this much on a pelican?"

When Hurricane Earl. dropped Ralph well north of his species' usual stamping grounds, Ms. Swinimer was summoned to the strip bar. She found a crowd of onlookers and an increasingly agitated bird. He began flitting about, nearly got hit by several cars and eventually crashed into a dollar store. That's when she was able to nab him.

His care has been a learning process. They discovered too late that mackerel bones were hard on Ralph, causing internal bleeding. But he has settled in well. Too well, Ms. Swinimer fears.

"He needs to work on his muscles," she said. "He's been sitting for months."

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