Winter 2002
Moving Animals
Experiences and Suggestions
Part 1.
(part 2. click here)

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First Catch your Animal!

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For those of you with a creature of any description, from the humble goldfish to a boisterous wombat, you will all know that it is not always easy to transport them, even with the shortest of trips; in fact, more often than not, it is just the opposite and will require some serious consideration and planning.  We all have our own methodology of catching, handling and holding of our beloved “pets” and some of you may even have this down to such a fine art that it becomes second nature when the need arises.

It sounds a very basic issue but before an animal is transported it has to be caught.    Most of us at some time will have to catch an animal for one reason or another and some thought should be given to the methods you are going to adopt.   

This series of articles is based on the knowledge of our members who have had many years of experience when it comes to moving animals from one place to another.    We hope to be able to pass on some of our ‘tricks of the trade’ that may ease the burden and the stresses applied to any animal, no matter how big or small.  We don’t intend to begin to tell you what to do, just impart our ideas and suggestions - they are neither right or wrong.

As the transportation of native animals is a very broad subject it is necessary to separate the different groups of animals and discuss each separately but before we get to that stage, as we said the animal or animals have to be caught, so we will really start with the various methods of catching the animal prior to transportation.  

1.                Submitted by Sharon & Scott Butler

All references during this section are based on two people being present at the time – after all four hands are better than two (sometimes)! 

In our block of marsupial aviaries we keep a tapered calico net which is approximately 500mm (about 20”) in diameter at the opening by about 1m (3’3”) in length and it is attached to a long broom handle.  This type of net is used for several reasons.

1.                Calico is an ideal material as it is extremely lightweight.  If you have to chase a possum around your cage waving the net above your head, you don’t want the net to be too heavy!

 2.                We tried using conventional open netting but found that not only did the animal get tangled up in the open weave, but could see us and could be one step ahead of us and pre-empt our next move.  Calico offers a good screen between you and the animal without interfering on the way you handle the animal.

3.                Calico is user friendly, in as much as you still have good control over your animal by being able to feel it through the material without causing too much stress, or letting the animal slip through your fingers!  Some of the heavier, thicker materials (i.e. hessian) restrict that flexibility and sensitivity and could cause you to unwittingly injure your animal due to excessive gripping.


4.                We prefer to use long calico sack so the animal can run to the back of the sack and then you can then fold over the opening and restrain the detainee until you relocate to an awaiting pet-pack/cage etc.


5.                The long broom handle enables you to reach those high places that possums etc will get to in the cage, or alternatively to reach those fast critters running by you on the floor of the cage (i.e. small macropods etc).


6.                We would not suggest the use of gloves if you are using a net.  Whilst you may be trying to protect your digits from sharp teeth or beak, spare a thought for the animal.  Gloves are too clumsy, can get caught on any number of things, and can reduce the feeling to your fingers/hands and therefore greatly increasing your chances of an injury to the animal.    If you learn to handle your critters correctly gloves will be unnecessary.

When working with any small animal, say up to wallaby size, once you have it securely in the sack or net, restrain it by holding with a firm grip around the neck, at the base of the skull, with one hand, and the base of the tail with the other, while it is still in the net.    Then gently carry the animal to its new enclosure or to the pet-pack, where your partner can then remove the net and reveal the animal again for inspection.    Use this opportunity to check the animal over for any pouch young or just for general health.  Once you are happy, slowly release your grip and allow the animal to free itself into its new enclosure/pet-pack.  Quickly shut the door ensuring that all tails & toes are safely inside!  Leave the animal alone for an hour or so to enable it to familiarise itself with its new environment.  If the animal is just to be relocated to a new cage, supply it with a varied selection of food for the first week.  Ensure it has drinking water available.     This will give you a good idea of what particular foods that animal prefers and will help monitor its habits etc.  Don’t be surprised if there is a change to the scats.  We all know what stress can do in us – the same principal can be applied to an animal.  Of course, if this change persists after 24 hours then perhaps veterinarian help should be sort.

Another good idea is to put the animal inside a calico bag, such as the ones that you get bread machine mix in, before placing it in the pet pack.  Supply the animal with plenty of clean straw or bedding material (clean of course!) to help make the transportation more comfortable for the animal and to give it some privacy.  Animals like to hide and try to feel secure even though they will be petrified!  Resist the temptation to supply food during transit.  Firstly, if the journey is long the food may become spoiled and could cause gut problems when eaten.  Secondly, if food is supplied when an animal is going to a new home, its appetite will not be reflected accurately and could cause some stress for the new owner when it does not eat when it arrives!  If you are sending your animal to a new home, always supply some form of diet sheet which outlines your feeding regime whilst it was in your care.  It will serve as a good starting point for the new owner in trying to settle the animal into its new home.

If travelling in a car, be sure to remember not to leave the vehicle unattended for any prolonged periods of time especially if you are travelling through the day.   Also whilst on the move, try to place the pet pack in such a position so that the sun will not shine directly on to it through the vehicle windows (even if you do have air conditioning).    This will sometimes be difficult (if not impossible) and in such cases cover the pet pack with a blanket or some other heavy material in an attempt to reduce radiated heat and stop and check on the creature frequently.  Bear in mind that the sun’s position, relative to your vehicle, will change as you move and change direction, so it may be necessary to move the pet pack accordingly.

If it will fit, it is best to place the pet-pack on the floor of your vehicle behind the front seats.  If you have to put it on the seat then secure it with the seatbelt.  If you have a station wagon then try to wedge it with a rug or some old towels to reduce slippage around the car.  Using a cargo barrier is by far the best method for station wagon owners.    The animals transport container can be strapped to the barrier in the centre of the vehicle making it stable and avoiding most of the sun light.    It has the added bonus of being a safeguard for the front seat occupants and particularly the driver!

When your animal has been safely delivered to its new location, don’t try to forcibly remove the animal from the pet pack.  Instead, open the door, remove some (but not all) the bedding and leave it well alone to come out by itself, when it feels ready to do so.     Place some food outside the pet pack, in the new enclosure and wait.  There will be new noises, smells, a new habitat and environment, and perhaps new “roommates”, all of which it will need to be adjusted to, to some degree, before it will even consider “stepping out”.  If it is possible, leave the travel pack in the cage overnight as somewhere familiar for the animal to sleep.

The safe transportation of animals is essential for their longevity and well-being.  Don’t be hasty in your actions – take time to think things through and you will find that there is nothing complex involved.  All it needs is a little practice and patience and forethought

2.         Submitted by Bob Cleaver

I would like to deal with my methods of catching animals by species, and will start with the obvious - kangaroos

a.                Kangaroos and wallabies.

With kangaroo joeys it is a non event as they will already be pouch bound and catching them is not an issue, but not so with adult animals.

If an adult kangaroo is tame, catching it is not too much of a problem but if it is not, and then other methods need to be employed.   I have seen fully grown tame kangaroos picked up bodily and placed into the back of a station wagon and driven for several hours to a new home.     Unfortunately we cannot always be this lucky and other methods of entrapment must be employed that have varying degrees of success.    Most, if not all, need to employ some form of tranquilisation of the animal concerned.

One method is to use a dart gun which necessitates the intervention of a professional, like your vet or some other person that is qualified to handle such a weapon.   The animal can then be restrained and transported (to be discussed in detail later).  

Another method is to set up a funnel net into which the animal(s) can be herded.    Once the animal is in the net it can be jumped upon, restrained and given a sedative.   I must be honest and say that I am not entirely happy with this method as the animal(s) concerned are put under some considerable stress and would suffer a high probability of succumbing to capture myopathy.    Another drawback with this method is that most macropods do not herd well.    They will, more often than not, run off in any direction.

Figure 1
This is the series of nets that I use.
The small one is the most valuable and is used for all manner of birds, gliders and possums.
The lighter one on the right is used for Bettongs, Potoroos and possums in very high aviaries.
The heavy one on the left is used for wallabies

A better method would be by using a permanent funnel fence or net as described in my article on macropod enclosures although even with this you still will have the herding problem, but I have seen it used with some success.

Once you have the animal netted and/or tranquilised it can be safely ‘walked’ to wherever you want it go by grabbing the tail as close to the base as you can and as tightly as you can, then lifting it gently.   In this way you are tilting the animal forward and its natural instinct is to rest its front paws on the ground and move forward; you can then use the tail to steer it.    I have used this method with a number of animals very successfully when in a sedated state (the animal not me – I was most probably hypertensive at the time).    I have even used this method with non sedated animals, also with a lot of success, but it’s a lot harder to hang on as their natural reaction is to hop away.    In either event the secret is to not let go.    Hang as if you life depended on it.   Whilst you are hanging on the animal cannot go anywhere and it will probably end up just hopping up and down on the spot (as long as you have enough strength in your hands and arms to hang on). 

With wallabies the procedure would be much the same except that I would tend to favour using a large hoop net (see figure 1).       You will also probably need a number of people to assist.    Someone would position themselves with the net at the narrow end of a funnel (if possible out of sight) and others would persuade the animal through the funnel.    As the animal flies out of the narrow end the catcher scoops it up with the net.    I have found the best way to do this is to attempt to catch the animal in mid hop.     If you are too quick, or too slow, it will fly over the top of the net like you wouldn’t believe as well as under it.

b.         Gliders, Possums and Small Macropods.

My method of catching these animals is much the same as the previous writer except that I use a net net rather than a calico net.    (See Figure 1.)

However, I do use another method, which is a favourite of mine that is basically an extension of the net method but with a twist.    I believe it puts the animal under the very least amount of stress possible although it does have some disadvantages.

Firstly you are going to have to be prepared to part with a nesting log or box and unless you have only one animal per aviary, or, unless the animals within that aviary sleep in separate boxes, it will not work.     Secondly, if this is not the case you will need to move the wanted animal to an ‘isolation’ aviary, preferably some time (and I mean days or even weeks) before it is transported to its new home.     This may seem a bit like double handling, but just think about it for a moment.   Under the conventional method you would catch the animal, put it in a strange bag or box, and send it to its intended destination.    Then it would be taken out the bag or box and placed in another strange place and then hopefully allowed to settle down. 

  Figure 2

Figure 3

Using my method, you catch the animal to be moved with whatever method you would normally use.    In my case this would be a net (see figure 4).     Then that animal is taken immediately, in the net, to the isolation aviary and released.   From catch to release possible only a few minutes – in some cases when the isolation aviary has been next door to where the animal came from – only a few seconds.    You then let this animal settle down in it’s new home for some days (or even weeks) and provide it with a sleeping box in which the animal can be trapped (see figures 2,3,).

Figure 4.
Typical possum or cat trap.
This particular trap has been responsible for the demise of 19 feral cats over a five year period

When the time comes to relocate the animal, this box can simply be closed off and lifted out of the aviary complete with animal and transported elsewhere.    The box stays with animal, which means it will have something familiar to sleep in for the foreseeable future and the new owner can install the animal and its box in its new aviary in its new location with absolutely no disturbance to the animal at all.

I have used this method with a great deal of success on numerous occasions but admittedly only for short overland journeys.   I don’t think the airlines would approve of this method because the boxes would not fit into their ‘pigeon hole’ of acceptable animal transport.    However you could probably take this idea one step further and put the box into a pet pack and then fly the animal almost anywhere. 

If you are lucky enough to have very large enclosures that tend to make other methods of capture difficult or unreliable, you could always resort to the possum (or cat) trap.    I must be honest and say that I have never tried this method but I cannot see any reason why it should not be successful except the only difficulty would be making sure you have caught the correct animal.    Many a wild possum has been caught this way within roof cavities.

c.         Wombats

The simplest way to catch a friendly wombat, but not necessarily the easiest, is to walk up behind it and pick it up by lifting it up off the ground with your arms around its chest but as suggested this is not always as easy as it sounds.     It can be akin to trying to wrap your arms around a very large, very heavy, very slippy and uncooperative bar of soap with legs on and is not always possible (I speak from experience).   If this is the case, or if the animal is not friendly, then you could to use a very heavy gauge net or a blanket and whilst the animal is busy trying to extricate itself from the material you can pop it into a suitable container.     We have one animal that is so aggressive we do not go into his enclosure for any reason, but we have moved this animal about without too

Figure 5.
Wombat Trap
The left-hand picture shows the method of releasing the trapped animal and the right-hand picture shows spring loaded trap end

much difficulty.     The way we do this is to place a large pet pack with the door open into his enclosure.    His curiosity gets the better of him and he will investigate inside the pet pack at which point he past the point of no return – literally.    He is then unceremoniously dumped into a wheelbarrow and trundled to his new location.  We have performed this trick three times but I have to admit that as he gets older he is getting wiser.    The last time we tried this trick he would not go into the pet pack so we had to resort to the blanket and then he and the blanket went into the pet pack together.   The blanket looked a bit ‘used’ after the event (i.e. shredded).

There is another way to catch a wombat and that is with a trap specially designed for the purpose although for captive animas this would generally be unnecessary.     These traps would be difficult to come by and would also be tricky to construct as well as being heavy and cumbersome.    They work on the same principles as a possum trap but the trick is to persuade the animal into it which, from my experience, is a lot more difficult than it sounds.    For some reason these animals are very wary of traps (maybe it has something to do with their comparatively high intelligence) and a lot of preplanning would be necessary for them to be successful.    Having said that, if you have an escapee or animal that refuses to be cooperative they are worth their weight in gold.    I have used the one pictured on a couple of occasions with very satisfactory results.

Plains Rats, Hopping Mice and the like

These small creatures should be handled with some care and not only because they are able to bite severely but because they themselves can be quite fragile.     You should NEVER pick these animals up by the tail.    If you do, there is a high probability that the outside sheath of the tail will come off and all you will be left with (after you’ve dropped the animal) is the bloody interior.    The remaining tail will eventually shrivel, die and drop off, and not grow back (as with some reptiles).    The animal will then be left tail-less for the rest of its life.     As these animals are usually kept in aquariums the simplest way to catch them is with the assistance of a jam jar or similar receptacle.   It is not too difficult to coax the animal to one end of the aquarium and scoop it up into the jar.    This is also a good way to confirm the sex of your animals as you will be able to see quite clearly through the glass.    Using this method also takes away the possibility of you being bitten.    

If for some reason you cannot avoid picking them up by the tail then make sure you hold it very tightly as close to the base as possible and only for very brief moments.    That having been said, it is still not recommended.

A baited Elliot trap

If your animals are in an enclosure, rather than an aquarium, a possible method of capture could be with the use of an Elliot trap.    These small traps are collapsible (for easy carrying and storage) and are very useful for a myriad of small “mouse and rat” sized creatures including Plains Rats, Dunnarts, Potoroos, Bandicoots and even Bettongs.      The trap is simply baited with an appropriate food source and left in an appropriate place for as long as it takes.      Note: An excellent bait is peanut paste.    Most animals that I know of are unable to resist it and this includes carnivorous marsupials.    You will find that it is very commonly used as universal bait for all manner of creatures.

 cont'd part 2 

Bennett's Wallaby
Juvenile NT Brushtail Possum
Swamp Wallaby
Golden Brushtail Possum
Red Kangaroos
Yellow-footed Rock-wallabies
Baby Squirrel Glider
Sugar Glider

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