What do wardrobe boxes, duct tape, cable ties, a flashlight, baby bottles and milk replacer have in common? They're items you may need on the road during an animal shipment, depending, of course, on what animal is traveling with you.
There are basically three ways to move an animal between zoos. The zoo that has the animal drops it off at the receiving zoo; a third party (animal hauler, airline) transports the animal; or the receiving zoo goes and gets the animal, or some combination of the three.
Generally, when planning animal moves, zoos select the safest and quickest method possible. Airplanes, of course, are quicker than cars and trucks, but airlines have restrictions (size, temperatures, etc.) that may, depending on the shipment and time of year, point you in other directions for your mode of transport. Plus, depending on the route, there can be plane changes and layovers to consider. As far as size goes, when it comes to the humongous shipments, FedEx has stepped in with its large cargo planes to make many moves possible.
Ground transport still plays a major role in animal moves. Many haulers have climate-controlled trailers, so they're able to transport most animals that will fit in their trailers during most weather conditions. Some have equipped their vehicles with cameras and monitors so they can keep an eye on their live cargo while driving. Others stop regularly and make personal checks on their charges. All offer food and water along the trip as agreed upon by the hauler and the shipper.
There are times zoos will haul the animals themselves. Sometimes a staff member is traveling nearby on vacation and gently drops the feathered freight off along the way. At times, zoos send staff ahead of time to get to know the animal or the practices the animal's home zoo uses for working with the species, before returning to the new zoo with their carnivorous cargo. A benefit of staff doing the transport is that it creates an opportunity for staff members to see other zoos and network with their colleagues. Not everyone gets to go to a professional conference, or workshop, during the year so travelling to another zoo, having a little time there to see the facility and talk with the staff, and then driving back with a new primate package is a great learning opportunity.
Animal trips always lend themselves to stories the staff can tell years later: plotting locations on the way up and then warming up bottles for pronghorn fawns at the convenience stores along the route back; the awkwardness of changing diapers on an active spider monkey baby in the car while travelling down the highway. No, you don't do this and drive at the same time (this is a historical reference by the way, we do not currently have a baby spider monkey); the wondering stares as a trailer tall enough for a giraffe goes down the road; offering a bear a popsicle during a gas station stop on a hot summer day; the odd looks at the drive-through fast food restaurant when the lemurs inside the van let loose with a chorus of raucous chatter.
You can't usually find a "jaguar" friendly hotel along the way, so extended travel plans must include enough able-bodied drivers to make the long haul back or appropriate plans for stops, if necessary, at other zoos along the way for safe harbor. It's always good to note what zoos are located along your travel path because you never know when you might need some special assistance. If your truck breaks down along the way, AAA may be of great assistance with the vehicle, but the polar bear may be a bit out of their realm of experience. While this would create another great opportunity to network with professional associates, zoo folks tend to prefer planned encounters rather than things out of left field. But when the call comes, zoo colleagues come to the rescue, whether it's lending a cool place to overnight or feeding a tamarin that missed its flight and got stuck at an airport longer than expected.
Most trips come off without a hitch, resulting in a few amusing tales (or tails), and new animals settling in at new homes. Next time you're at the zoo, see if you can pick out the new arrivals that inspired this article.
Visit our website at www.leerichardsonzoo.org for updates on zoo happenings.