"I've always enjoyed getting animals and transporting them to get released back into the wild," Bennett said. "I love moving exotics. The weirder the better."

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OKALOOSA ISLAND — The Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge's rare red-footed booby is preparing to hitch a flight to Key West and begin a new life among his masked booby cousins.

The red-footed booby, which typically lives in tropical and subtropical oceans, was rescued July 13 after it jumped aboard a fisherman's boat near Destin.

Over the past month refuge volunteers have been helping the malnourished bird gain weight to prepare it to be released back into the wild.

The refuge also has been giving the booby weekly Dawn dish soap baths and preventive treatments for fungal growth.

"The Dawn baths help his water-proofing get back to normal," said Shelby Proie, the marine mammal stranding coordinator and wildlife health technician at the refuge. "The feathers get contaminated in a rehabilitative setting."

Now that the booby has gained weight, the refuge has devised a plan to release the bird among his cousins — the masked boobies — in Key West.

"It's not a perfect release plan, but it's the best we can do," Proie said. "Unfortunately, in this part of the country there are no red-footed boobies. The red-footed boobies have been seen hanging out with masked boobies. So, his best chance is integrating with those."

Proie said it would require several permits to return the bird back home to Hawaii.

"Getting the permits would have taken months or even years," Proie said. "Having the bird in captivity for that long would not have been a good plan."

The red-footed booby has white feathers and, true to its name, bright red feet. The birds are pelagic, meaning they spend most of their time on the open sea, occasionally finding places to perch.

Pilot Jeff Bennett with the nonprofit organization Pilots N Paws agreed to take the bird aboard his plane with 40 other animals to Key West next week. After transport, the Key West Wildlife Center will test the booby's water-proofing and, if healthy, release it near a colony of masked booby located in the Gulf of Mexico.

"I've always enjoyed getting animals and transporting them to get released back into the wild," Bennett said. "I love moving exotics. The weirder the better."