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UPS transports polar bear cub from Alaska to Kentucky

By control on July 1, 2011

UPS crewmembers got a taste of northern exposure on June 27 when they moved a 60-pound polar bear cub from the Alaska Zoo to the Louisville Zoo in Kentucky. Utilizing a Boeing 747-400 converted freighter, the UPS team worked with various animal experts to overcome the logistical challenges of transporting the fragile cub, named Qannik.

UPS got involved in Operation Snowflake — a title derived from the Inupiat meaning of “Qannik” — after Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and the Louisville Zoo approached them.

Although 5-month-old Qannik had taken up temporary residence at the Alaska Zoo after being discovered on the state’s North Slope in April, the cub needed to be moved. Fortunately, Louisville Zoo, which recently opened a polar bear habitat, offered Qannik the ideal location to flourish.

The issue was getting her there. Not that this proved to be an insurmountable task, maintains UPS Airlines' Jackie Blair.

"While UPS is not normally in the business of shipping wildlife, we have made some notable exceptions in the past," Blair explained. For instance, "we shipped Keiko the killer whale — star of the 'Free Willy' movies — on two separate occasions as he was freed into the ocean. And we have shipped whale sharks for the Georgia Aquarium, beluga whales and a panda for the Atlanta Zoo."

Still, the logistical challenges of transporting Qannik were rampant. From determining which crewmembers were best suited for the task to developing a flight route that ensured zoo veterinarians were nearby, the UPS team had their work cut out for them. The company also had to obtain permission from the Federal Aviation Administration, the Transportation Security Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Blair cited securing ground transportation in Louisville and Anchorage and providing zoo veterinarians and handlers with special flight access as other key hurdles. But these issues didn’t faze UPS, she said. After all, Blair explained, "each move has its own unique set of challenges, in terms of climate control, flying veterinarians and other factors."

Either way, the safety of Qannik was of paramount importance, she said. Blair credits UPS’ "close collaboration" with the Louisville Zoo, the Alaska Zoo, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and Polar Bears International with Operation Snowflake’s success. "We spent two months turning over every detail until we were satisfied and in good shape," she told Air Cargo World. "When it came time to actually move Qannik, the process went very smoothly because of all the expertise and preparation involved."

Qannik is also a success story in her own right. Now weighing in at a healthy 60 pounds — a far cry from the 15 pounds she weighed when she was discovered — the cub is thriving at the Louisville Zoo.

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