How to Safely Transport Aquatic Animals

The handling and transportation of general cargo is a routine process for most forwarders and airlines. It’s their “bread and butter” shipments, and with well-established rules and safety standards in place, moving this type of cargo can be done by just about any reputable freight forwarder and airline.

Moving up in complexity, other verticals such as shipping perishables require even more dedicated resources and expertise to ship this cargo correctly. Even more so, ensuring an end-to-end unbroken cool chain is a tough challenge that requires coordination throughout the supply chain.

Beyond just perishables, some of the more difficult shipments that require specific equipment and expertise includes heavy and outsize cargo as well as the complexity that comes with shipping live animals. For all other types of cargo small mishaps can happen that may damage the cargo, but when shipping and handling live animals the situation is quite literally life or death.

The transportation of live animals is a complex multi-tiered process requiring high levels of expertise, years of experience, and strict compliance with existing regulations and standards to guarantee the well-being of the carried animals. Land animals already have a host of issues to contend with when delivering them by air, but the difficulty is amplified even further when delivering aquatic animals. These animals offer unique challenges as they are shipped in containers (tanks) with water, which needs to stay clear, fresh, and uncontaminated, and is not to be spilled during handling procedures.

We were interested to learn more, and were fortunate to recently speak with Mr. Sergey Lazarev, General Director of AirBridgeCargo Airlines, who helped to elaborate on the ins-and-outs of what goes into shipping aquatic animals.

Animal Transportation Expertise

Speaking with Mr. Lazarev, it was apparent how much experience AirBridgeCargo (ABC) has had with shipping animals of all types. He said, “ABC has a proven track record when it comes to the transportation of live animals, with a special expertise and experience in the delivery of aquatic animals. Throughout the years we have welcomed aboard our Boeing 747 freighters animals such as dolphins, walrus, fish, and white whales.”

Delving deeper into some of these shipments, Mr. Lazarev spoke about a few challenging deliveries of aquatic animals that they completed, one of which included delivery of six white whales that were transported in four large tanks.

Mr. Sergey Lazarev, General Director of AirBridgeCargo Airlines

“In March this year, we transported 6 white whales (belugas) from Moscow, Russia to Haikou, China. The weight of the whales was 16 tonnes in total. This transportation was organized from Anapa dolphinarium to local dolphinariums of Hainan Island. The whole transportation went very smoothly despite the long journey, which included truck delivery from Anapa to Moscow Sheremetyevo airport where they went through veterinary control, had the water changed in their tanks, and were loaded onboard a Boeing 747 freighter.”

“The abcCARE team followed all standard procedures to guarantee the well-being of animals and their smooth delivery. The same dolphinarium also entrusted ABC with transportation of two dolphins of total weight 5.5 tonnes from Moscow to Beijing, with the same procedures as for whales. We have built long-term relations with Utrish dolphinarium and Sochi aquarium in Russia and are proud to be chosen for transportation of their animals.”

Another noteworthy shipment that ABC recently carried out involved manatees. Currently, there are 76 manatees living in zoological gardens across the world. However, the problem is that there are not enough female manatees in Europe. To diversify the gene pool, female manatees need to be transported from around the world to these zoological gardens. The 20-hour move from Singapore to Poland for a group of female manatees was one of the most challenging animal shipments that ABC has completed yet.

Mr. Lazarev explained, “The whole undertaking required complex logistics as the transport involved a very fragile cargo. Manatees are water mammals, so transporting them is a big challenge. They were placed in special crates and hanged on hammocks to protect their lungs from the pressure of their body mass. There, on continually moistened sponges, they covered the distance first by air and then on land. There were 6 people making sure they were safe, including their zookeeper from the Singapore facility. All of this is necessary to ensure that animals experience the least stress possible. The other challenge was to maintain appropriate temperature during the flight and on the ground, from the hot weather in Singapore to the chilly September weather in Moscow and Warsaw. We successfully completed this shipment and I believe it’s one of our most remarkable moves regarding animal transportation and shows our expertise in the field.”

Perfect Processes

The process for transporting aquatic animals starts long before the animal is being loaded onto the airplane. Great care has to be taken when building up the pallets correctly and changing the water in the tanks before the flight to guarantee safe loading procedures. Even before this, there is much prep work that needs to be completed.

Mr. Lazarev said, “Before we confirm booking and accept animals for transportation we do some preliminary work and check infrastructure and capabilities of cargo terminals, ground handlers, and airport veterinary services at the airports of departure/arrival to accept and handle this type of ‘cargo’. After confirmation that all supply chain stakeholders are set and ready for the animals’ acceptance, there are other factors to take into account. There is much paperwork that needs verification, such as veterinary certificates, CITES certificates, or any other necessary documentation. The choice of ULD/container/cage/kennel needs to be suitable for safe and comfortable transportation in accordance with IATA LAR Container Requirements. Suitable shelter needs to be in place as well to protect animals from extreme weather conditions during transportation.”

He continued, “Once the animal is onboard, the container/cage needs to be lashed and tied down correctly. In the case of large aquatic animals, oxygen is required throughout the entire flight. This can add complications as most oxygen canisters are DG(dangerous goods) regulated. All canisters must be certified and approved by the airline to make sure they are in compliance with airline regulations as well as IATA. To keep the animals calm and happy there is always an accompanying person (vet/groom/keeper) during loading/offloading as well. Onboard, there needs to be provisions for the animals, especially on long-haul flights. During the flight, comfortable temperature conditions need to be kept for the well-being of the animal.”

Important Regulations

The overarching guideline for shipping animals by air is IATA’s Live Animals Regulations (LAR). These rules and standards have been created to achieve a unification of transportation process/procedures to help guarantee the safety and well-being of the animals being transported. These regulations apply to all supply chain stakeholders who must be in compliance with all the rules in IATA’s LAR.

Mr. Lazarev explained some of the rules within IATA’s LAR that must be adhered to. “All ULDs are subject to compliance with IATA LAR Container Requirements. The construction of ULDs should be solid, stable, and airworthy. The inside walls of the container should be smooth to protect against abrasions. The container must be long enough to prevent the animal injuring itself when moving in the sling. A clearance of at least 20 cm (8 in) must be presented at the front and rear of the animal and between the sides.”

“Apart from that, IATA recently issued the Addendum I to the 43rd Edition of the LAR with respect to the Regulations raising awareness on the issue of illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products. Most of the carriers around the world, with ABC being no exception, have already accepted and strictly follow this added Addendum.”

Caring for Animal Well-being

ABC has developed a dedicated product called abcCARE to guarantee the safe and secure transportation of live animals. With certified personnel, years of experience, aligned internal procedures, proper training, cooperation with trust-worthy partners, and compliance with existing regulations; they provide delivery solutions with the well-being of animals in mind.

For the quick and safe transportation of all animals, ABC said they encourage customers to contact them well ahead of the transportation date to make sure that the whole process will be organized properly without any fuss and problems. As long as all proper procedures are followed things should run smoothly, but even if they don’t Mr. Lazarev says, “We have developed and introduced standard operational procedures for transportation of live animals which cover actions taken during unforeseen situations (flight delay or cancellation, weather conditions, etc). On top of this, each animal transportation is monitored and controlled by Control Tower 24/7 specialists to guarantee a safe and smooth delivery process. This enables us with the ability to tackle various difficult situations, and take all the necessary actions to absolutely guarantee the safe delivery of all animals that fly with ABC.”

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