Tuckered Out: A Hippo’s Story
FedEx flies all kinds of cargo. Animals are among the most interesting. I have flown sea turtles, horses, a variety of birds, and ferrets, and can now add a hippopotamus to that list. This is Tucker’s story. If he could write a sign, it would say, “Eight year old male hippo in need of a new home”. FedEx donated our services to move him from the Topeka zoo to the San Francisco zoo. Delivered under perfect flying conditions, Tucker is busily exploring his new surroundings.
Tucker’s story is as interesting as his journey. Born in captivity at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, he was destined to be relocated to the San Francisco zoo over a year ago, but the timing wasn’t right in San Francisco. Instead, he was transported to the Topeka zoo where he met a lovely mate. They fell in love and had a baby together on August 21, 2010. But this miracle of birth also proved to be Tucker’s downfall, for the Topeka zoo is not large enough to accommodate three hippos. Handler David Jaffe told me that while Tucker is a very docile animal, they were concerned he would inadvertently kill his baby by playing with him. Sadly, Tucker had worn out his welcome.
He was supposed to have been transported on November 30th, 2010, but this transportation fell through. With winter in full swing, an appeal was made for FedEx to fly him to San Francisco. FedEx agreed to transport him gratis as a hippotarian gesture. On January 6th, Captain Rich Fazio and First Officer Michael Michaud flew Tucker from Kansas City to Memphis. There, he patiently waited for First Officer Brian Donar and me to fly him to Oakland. His crate was then loaded onto a flatbed and trucked to the San Francisco zoo.
Tucker’s oversized crate was approximately 1 ½ times the size of a normal MD-11 pallet. Loaded with hay and food, he was as comfortable as any hippo can be under the circumstances. Attended by handlers David Jaffe and Scott Gamerl, and veterinarian Shirley Llizo, he was in good hands. Thankfully, our airplane was equipped with a rigid cargo barrier that kept Tucker’s distinct aroma confined to the upper cargo compartment.
Thanks to good weather, Tucker probably never knew he moved. He was a perfect passenger throughout our flight. Had he been upset, we definitely would have known since annoyed oversized animals tend to bounce airplanes. But Tucker did none of that. His handlers checked assured me our four thousand pound puppy was quite content. Only they would know.
On our initial descent into Oakland, the Oakland Center controller assigned a step-down altitude. To make it easier on Tucker’s ears, I had Brian request a constant descent because of our special cargo. The controller then asked if we had horses on board. Pleased to hear it was a hippo, he replied, “Cool.” From then on, we received special handling that never required us to level-off. Tucker’s information was passed from controller to controller to assure our arrival went smoothly.
I elected to use the full runway length so our deceleration was gradual. The taxi in went as smoothly as our taxi out. The SF zoo was very appreciative of FedEx’s service, and I was happy to be among those playing a part in his relocation. Far more people were involved in this operation than I will ever know, but this was a success because it was a team effort.
Single again, Tucker is now free to find a new mate while enjoying California’s moderate climate. San Francisco may not be Disney World, but it’s far better than winter in Topeka. As for FedEx – we again proved that we deliver the world on time.