Operation Bravo: Part 1

By Alle Foster

Hello! My name is Alle Foster, and I am the Conservation Manager for the WAVE Foundation at the Newport Aquarium. I am with Ric Urban and Becky Echtenkamp from the Husbandry Department at the Newport Aquarium, and we are going on a very unique adventure over the next few days… and I am going to share it with you!

When we are at work, a lot of guests ask us, “How do you get the animals at the Aquarium?” or “Where do the animals come from?” It is definitely a good question, and many people don’t realize that a lot of the animals are “on loan” from other accredited zoos and aquariums around the United States, and sometimes we have to travel to pick up (or drop off) these different animals. So Ric, Becky and I are on a trip to Tennessee, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina to drop off, and pick up, some of our amazing animals. And of course we end the trip with picking up Bravo, the more than 600-pound, nearly 85-year-old Galapagos tortoise! Over the next few days we will be posting about our adventure and sharing all the fun and unpredictable aspects of our trip!

Becky Echtenkamp (left), Alle Foster (center) and Ric Urban are on a mission to bring Bravo, a 600-pound Galapagos tortoise, to Newport Aquarium.

Becky Echtenkamp (left), Alle Foster (center) and Ric Urban are on a mission to bring Bravo, a 600-pound Galapagos tortoise, to Newport Aquarium.

Day 1: Newport, Ky. to Chattanooga, Tenn. (6 hours)
We were supposed to be leaving for our trip on Monday morning, but the bad weather coming through made us leave a day early. So we decided to make it to Chattanooga, Tenn. for our first stop. A lot of people were asking us, “How are you going to transport a huge Galapagos tortoise?” Well, with a very large crate and truck!

Newport Aquarium aquatic biologist Becky Echtenkamp poses with Bravo's crate.

Newport Aquarium aquatic biologist Becky Echtenkamp poses with Bravo’s crate.

We met at Newport Aquarium at 9 a.m. and started getting animals ready. We heated up the truck to make sure that all of our cold-blooded reptiles would be comfortable, and loaded up all the coolers. Each crocodilian we are transporting are in their own cooler with plenty of room. What most people probably don’t realize, is that for the heat to reach the back of the truck for the animals to be comfortable, we have to crank it on high the entire way. We came prepared with thermometers to check the temperatures of the animal’s coolers, and we quickly learned that the front of the truck was kept close to 100 degrees for the first few hours of the trip… It was HOT! Ric, Becky and I felt like we were melting, but it was all for the safety and wellbeing of the animals. Once we got further south and out of the ice storms, then the weather started heating up and we could turn the heat down in the front of the truck. Thank goodness!

Ric loading truck

Ric Urban locks up the truck before the trip begins.

We arrived in Chattanooga at about 3:30 p.m. (about a six-hour drive time from Newport), and we decided to go to the Chattanooga Zoo to meet with some of Ric’s friends for a short while. We got to learn about their hellbender salamander conservation efforts and see a couple of their new exhibits before going to our hotel. We would like to say a huge thank you to the staff at the Chattanooga Zoo that welcomed us and kept us entertained for a while! Thank you! Thank you!

Another question that we get a lot during animal transfers is “What do you do with the animals overnight?” Well, all of the animals we are transporting are small enough to come into our pet-friendly hotels. And no, we do not get the animals out or let them roam around the hotel rooms! They stay perfectly safe and comfortable in their enclosures overnight until we can load them back up in the morning for the next chapter of the trip.

Alle Foster at a Chattanooga hotel with the alligator coolers.

Alle Foster at a Chattanooga hotel with the alligator coolers.

Check back tomorrow to say goodbye to our two American alligators (named Bert and Ernie) in Valdosta, Ga!

Operation Bravo Schedule:
Sunday, March 2: Newport, Ky. to Chattanooga, Tenn.
• Leaving with our two American alligators, a tomistoma, a spectacled caiman and a common caiman from Newport Aquarium (a bunch of crocodilians!). We left a day earlier than planned to beat the bad weather that was heading our way in Kentucky.

Monday March 3: Chattanooga, Tenn. to Valdosta, Ga.
• We are stopping here to drop off our two American alligators.

Tuesday March 4: Valdosta, Ga. to St. Augustine, Fla.
• We are going to St. Augustine Alligator Farm to pick up two new hatchling American alligators for our outreach programs for the WAVE Foundation. We are also dropping off the other crocodilians at this stop and possibly picking up another crocodilian for an exhibit.

Wednesday, March 5: St. Augustine, Fla. to Charleston, S.C. to Columbia, S.C.
• We are going to stop at the Turtle Survival Alliance to learn about different turtle and tortoise conservation efforts before heading to Columbia, S.C. to pick up Bravo, our new Galapagos tortoise!

Thursday March 6: Columbia, S.C. to Knoxville, Tenn. to Newport, Ky.
• We are heading home with Bravo and our new hatchling American alligators and stopping at the Knoxville Zoo along the way to pick up a couple of Spider tortoises for the new Turtle Canyon exhibit!

4 thoughts on “Operation Bravo: Part 1

  1. So you are loading the tortoise in the back of the truck inside a crate. Will the crate be heated? How will you protect the edges of his carapace? Will the crate be secured to the truck? Will the tortoise have a buddy where he is going?

  2. Pingback: Operation Bravo: Part 2 | Aquarium Works

  3. Pingback: Operation Bravo: Part 3 | Aquarium Works

  4. Pingback: Operation Bravo: Mission Complete | Aquarium Works

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