Written By: Rob Tomas, Animal Curator
If only it was that easy! Moving a tiger from zoo to zoo (or any animal for that matter) takes a lot of time, preparation, many staff members, and patience-- and did I mention time? Did I mention patience?
When a recommendation comes to us from the Taxon Advisory Group (TAG) to move an Amur tiger to a new facility, we start with careful, lengthy discussions amongst the animal care management team, which includes the Zoo Director, Animal Curator, Senior Animal Care and Veterinarian. (So far: 4 staff members.) Once we have had an internal discussion, the Curator will reach out to the receiving institution to discuss if they have received the recommendations and have internally discussed whether they can receive the animal (3-4 staff members on their side). If the answer is yes, now the work begins.
On our end, we involve the Registrar and Vet Technician to coordinate sharing of husbandry files, diet information, enrichment, and medical records--basically the animal’s life history. (We are up to 10 people involved.) When the receiving institution has our information, their Curator and Veterinarian look over the history and approve or ask for additional information (we’re at 12 people) and will ask for a Pre-Ship Exam of the tiger. The Pre-Ship Exam includes blood work to check the overall health of the animal, radiographs, and a dental work up. Sound easy? “Just bring the cat to the vet and it will be all taken care of in a short time.” Again, if it was only that easy.
Once our Vet Tech schedules the Pre-Ship Exam, the direct animal care staff continues to condition the cat to be hand injected with vaccines, a potential voluntary blood draw and/or administering of sedation, all done for the cat’s welfare and well- being to minimize stress. It can take 2 staff members to work with the cat to ensure the process is complete. Here is where patience comes in. Depending on the animal and how it feels towards staff, it can take a long period of time or just a few days to learn the process and to be comfortable. To help explain, consider your pets at home, especially if you have cats. Cats are very independent and will warm up to one member of your family and not others. (Now we are up to 14 people.)
Once all the medical exams are complete and are sent to the receiving institution for approval, our staff will begin crate training—again, done so the cat will voluntarily enter the crate and be comfortable in it. This can take days or weeks depending on the animal and comfort level. Crate training is done several times throughout the day: the cat is given access to the crate and has the option to explore or sleep in the crate. During this time the Curator schedules the transport, in this case, ground transport.
When a date has been scheduled, both the Transporter and Curator confer on the route to be taken and contact other AZA facilities along the way for a point of contact. The reasoning is if something should go wrong –if there’s a flat tire, mechanical breakdown or a health concern arises-- the Transporter can easily call the point of contact and make necessary arrangements to ensure the well-being of the animal.
The transporter arrives with 2 staff members, one of which is a Vet Technician. The Vet Technician’s job is to monitor the animal during transport, check the air temperature within the crate, adjust temperatures as needed , and administer her favorite treats and water during the transport. (There are now 16 staff members involved). Once the cat walks into the crate and the door is lowered and secured, up to an additional 6-8 staff members are needed to lift the crate quietly and smoothly to the vehicle.
She’s loaded, so you would think our job is done. Not so! The Curator contacts the receiving institution and advises that she is on her way. The Transporter is in contact throughout the trip with both the sending and receiving institutions. On our end, constantly monitoring the phone for updates can become a sleepless night. When the cat arrives, we are notified she is there, and we are again notified that she is out of the crate and settling into her new home (with several staff there needed to help unload).
If you haven’t been keeping track, there are a total of 24- 30 staff members combined between two institutions and an Animal Transporter to ensure that the cat’s welfare is the top priority along with safety for all involved.