Summer 2003
Moving Animals
Experiences and Suggestions
Part 2
(part 1.click here)

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Transporting your Animal!

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1.    Basics 

There are many schools of thought when it comes to the safe transporting of an animal.      Try to take into account a number of important, factors when choosing your mode of transport. 

        How many animals are you transporting

        How big is the animal

        How far is the animal traveling

        What time of day will the animal be traveling

        Will there be other objects in or around the animal during transit 

You must think of the animal’s safety at all times.    It is no good putting the animal in a soft calico bag if they are likely to get squashed by falling objects or by sliding around a vehicle.  Take the time to look closely at the method of transportation being used and ascertain what will be the best method of holding.  Pet-packs come in a range of sizes and colours (see figure 1) (not that colour will impact on the animal but some people are very colour conscious!) and they will vary in price a great deal.     Most pet stores and some veterinary practices will carry a limited range and there are also a number of different styles to choose from.    It could be argued as to which is the best type.    As long the door closes securely, and any holes are not too large that the animal may escape through, they will do the job very well.    If you are using an old pet-pack, check for any signs of wear and tear on the screws and door or for any signs of fatigue on the plastic shell.    This will ensure that it is not likely to fall apart during transit.    Any style of commercial pet pack will generally be accepted by airlines and transport companies although they do get a little worried about the transportation of anything that is not a dog or a cat! 

Tip:       Attached an old piece of hessian sacking or other heavy material over the door.  This provides the animal with a little more privacy. 

Another good idea is to put the animal inside a calico bag (like the ones that you get with bread machine mix) before placing in the pet pack.       Supply the animal with plenty of straw or bedding material (clean of course!) to help make the transportation more comfortable for the animal and to give it some privacy.     A word of caution about straw.     If you are sending an animal Interstate check that the receiving state will allow the importation of plant materials – some are VERY strict in this regard!   A good substitute is strips of newspaper.     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 rancid and could cause gut problems when eaten.     Secondly, if food is supplied and the animal is going to a new home, the animals’ appetite will not be reflected accurately and could cause some stress for the new owner when the animal does not touch their food!      Thirdly, most animals, during transit, will not eat anyway.    If you are sending your animal to a new home, try and supply some form of diet sheet which outlines what you have been feeding that animal during its time 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 traveling by car be sure to remember not to leave the vehicle unattended for any prolonged periods during the day and most importantly, during the hottest part of the day say between 11am and 3pm – even if you do have air conditioning.  This may sound ridiculously simply and you are probably thinking “…goes without saying...” but people do do these sorts of things. 

Figure 1
Pet packs.
The large black one and the two small white ones are by far the better product.
The others are too open.    The slots, of course can be covered as in the small white ones above but they do provide nice edges for chewing
You will notice even the top small white one has had the door and the sides vents covered to offer the transportee a feeling of security.

Try and support the pet-pack by placing on the floor of your vehicle behind the driver’s seat etc.  If you have to put it on the seat then secure it with the seatbelt.  If putting in the wagon section of the vehicle then try to wedge it with a rug or some old towels to reduce slippage around the car.  A cargo barrier is always good – not only to reduce to space around the animal but to also safeguard any passengers, and in particular 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 for an hour or two.  Place some food outside – and wait.  There are new noises, smells, layout, and roommates with which to become familiarized before he/she will even consider “stepping out”.  You may wish to leave the travel pack in the cage overnight as somewhere 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.  

2.         Kangaroos, Wallabies. 

Kangaroo joeys would be by far one of the easiest of critters to move from place to place if they are still pouch bound.    It is quite simply a matter of picking up the animal in its bag or pouch and off you go and, provided you are there at feed time, it is highly unlikely it, or you, will suffer any adverse consequences.       Even an ‘at foot’ joey, provided it has been hand raised by you and you are moving with it, should present no problem.    Again it is simply a matter of picking up the animal and popping into a large bag or sack and then sitting it on your lap during the transportation phase.    If you are unable to do this, the next best way would be to hang the bag (complete with animal) from a hook within the vehicle so that it is hanging as if in mums pouch.    Most, if not all vehicles these days, are equipped with a coat hanger hook inside the back door, usually behind the driver, which suits this purpose admirably.    Once ensconced in the bag the animal will settle down and will rarely give you cause for concern.     I have transported two Eastern Grey ‘at foot’ joeys in this manner quite successfully, hanging in the back of a car for a two and a half hour journey.    A word of caution – if you are using the hanging bag method (and to some extent for your lap if using the ‘sitting on the lap method’) these animals will be under, at least some stress and are likely to lose bladder control, so be prepared and make provision to alleviate the ensuing mess. 

If, on the other hand we are going to transport adult kangaroos, the picture changes quite dramatically.   If you can avoid moving them at all, then please do so – it is by far the best solution to this problem – easy to say – maybe not so easy to do.      These are difficult animals to move, an event to which many people will attest and especially over long distances.

As a general rule a high percentage of adult ‘roos that are moved will be dead within eighteen months (maybe even up to a couple of years) of the move.    The reasons for this are many and varied but basically they all succumb to a condition known as myopathy which in layman’s terms is a severe form of stress.

However, having said that, many adult ‘roos can be moved without incident and I believe that there are three main factors in the success of such an operation.     First, the temperament of the individual animal; second, the owner or carer of the animal should move with them and third, but by no means least, that the geography of the location from which the animal is taken, compared with that of where it is going to go, should be of a similar size and characteristics.    I will give you an example of what I mean.

Some years ago we moved seventeen adult ‘roos, three Euros (or Wallaroos) (Macropus. robustus), seven Western Greys (M. fuliginosus), and seven Reds (M. rufus) from an area that they had been used to since they were small, some for as long as eleven or so years.    They had all been hand-raised and brought up in that particular location which was a small acreage in the Adelaide Hills.    They were transported to a location about one and a half hours drive away that was of similar size (and I said earlier I think this is part of the key to success), although somewhat different in characteristics, and we also moved with them (another part of the key).    Some handled it well, some not so well.

Figure 2.
Box trailer used to transport kangaroos.   Note air vents at front and extractors on the roof.    This is a converted standard 8’ x 5’ trailer using a cage and sheets of plywood

I must be honest and say that we did have problems catching the last three to be transported because they were starting to get jumpy (no pun intended), wondering where all their ‘mates’ had gone.    They were transported in a totally enclosed box trailer (see figure 2), two or three at a time.    They were all drugged before the move by intramuscular injection with an anesthetic product which is used to calm pigs prior to slaughter.   This was supplied by our Vet.     As most of our animals were handleable it was not too difficult to do this, apart from the last three who had to be darted.     We called in our veterinarian to do this job and the whole exercise turned out to be quite a traumatic afternoon (but that is another story).     The beauty of this drug is that if you administer the correct dosage the animal should not be unconscious but just a bit dopey.   What you are trying to achieve is for the animal to remain standing during the journey – if they are allowed to lie unconscious or semiconscious for long periods of time there is a danger of fluid build up in the lungs with unpleasant consequences.

As I may have mentioned before, we moved seventeen adult ‘roos in this way and over the following two years we lost (as in died) four animals under what I can only describe as ‘suspicious circumstances’.    One of these was taken to the vet in a state of great distress and was diagnosed with a very severe case of myopathy and was euthanased.    The other three died before we had realised there was anything wrong,which, unfortunately, is a typical symptom of myopathy.    These types of animals very rarely exhibit pain or distress until the problem is so severe that it is more often than not, irreversible.    To make matters worse they are also generally silent – they generally do not cry out in pain.

Figure 3.
This style of transport box can be manufactured quite easily using 6mm ply and a pine frame with welded mesh for vents.   Sizes will depend on the animal you are going to transport but it could be used for almost any macropod and would be also be suitable for many other species of marsupial and eutherian mammals.
Note that this transporter has a slide door both ends and stout carry handles along the side placed a little high of centre.

Another method of moving adult ‘roos or wallabies that I have seen used with very good results, is to place each individual animal into a specially designed crate (see figure 3).    This is in the form of a rectangular wooden box with air holes around the top and a slide door both ends and only just wide enough for the animal to stand (again, you are trying to avoid the animal lying down in a semiconscious state for long periods of time).    I have seen wild caught kangaroos moved from South Australia to Victoria by road in this manner, and only a week after the move the animals concerned were eating out of the owner’s hands.       Sounds almost too good to be true doesn’t it, although I have to admit they were Kangaroo Island Kangaroos (Macropus fuliginosus .fuliginosus), which have the reputation of being the most lay back of all the kangaroo species. 

3. Brushtail and Ringtail Possums and Small Macropods. 

There are many ways of transporting possums and some of the smaller marsupials.     A simple small ‘pet pack’ as used for a cat or small dog would be one of the best but please make sure the pet pack has solid sides or at least some form of covering to ensure the animal cannot be disturbed during its journey.   This will also ensure it has a feeling of security.     

A method I have used for interstate road journeys which have involved an overnight stay en route was to use a large pet pack, rather than a small one, and drilled a few small holes in the top through which I threaded some galvanised wire and stitched an old hessian sack to hang down inside like a curtain about two-thirds back from the door.    This enabled the possum to have somewhere to hide and gave it a feeling of security.    It also enabled us to put food and water inside the pet pack without disturbing the animal and, being a large pet pack, there was a bit of room for animal to move around at night.   For this type of animal there should be a decent layer of straw or newspaper on the floor of the pet pack simply for hygiene purposes.

You will see at figure 1. some of the different types of pet packs that we have used over the years and I would suggest that when transporting native animals you should avoid the ones that have the slots in the bottom half.   The ones with the solid bottoms and holes in the top half are by far the best.     The smaller pet packs (the white ones in the illustration) would also be suitable for creatures like Bettongs, Potoroos, and Quolls etc.    For this type of animal you should stuff the pet pack full of straw and then punch a hole in the middle of it with your fist and make a “tunnel” into which you put the animal.   This is purely as security for the animal and you will find that it will travel much happier this way.    It will be warm, comfortable, reasonably hygienic and the animal will have that feeling of security.

By the way, only transport one animal per pet pack.    NO exceptions.  

4.    Sugar Gliders, Squirrel Gliders and Possums.

The basis of this section was described in part 1 of this article but has been expanded and I believe is worthy of repeating.    This method of transportation is a favourite of mine as I believe it puts the animal under the very least amount of stress possible and it can also be used for a range of possums, and other small mammals. 

Figure 4

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 light one (as in not heavy) on the right is used for Bettongs, Potoroos and possums in very high aviaries.

The heavy one on the left is used for wallabies

It does have some disadvantages, however.    Firstly, unless you have only one animal per aviary, or, 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. 

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, 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 thirty seconds or so.    You then let this animal settle down in its new home for some days (or even weeks) and provide it with a sleeping box in which the animal can be trapped (see figures 5,6,7,8). 

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.  

Figures 5, 6, 7, & 8

Figures 5, 6 & 7, are examples of the method I used for moving a Squirrel Glider showing how the animal was prevented from escaping.   Also note this box has a lid that can be slid to one side to make sure the animal is ‘at home’ before you remove the box from the aviary.

Figure 8 is the same type of box but much larger and is designed for a Brush-tail Possum.    The same principle applies as with the Squirrel Glider box.

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.

Here are some more examples of methods of transporting small animals safely and are all designed for the creature concerned to arrive at its destination in good condition.

Figure 9 Figure 10 Figure 11 Figure 12

Figures 9 & 10 show two more transport boxes that are basically designed for birds but will do just as well for small mammals.    The small bowls in the box in figure 10 are there for food or water but only whilst the box is stationery.   It is not a good idea (or necessary) to provide food for the journey unless there is an overnight (or other long stop) involved.

Figure 11 & 12 is another box designed for birds but is just as good for Gliders or Potoroos and the like.    This is a double-ended box to enable two animals to be transported together and would ideal for a breeding pair.

5.    Wombats

Transporting wombats is, again, a major undertaking and should not be attempted without considerable prior preparation.

For short distances again a pet pack is probably the easiest (but not necessarily the most secure) method.     As with the kangaroos, the age of the animal will determine your course of action.     I imported a young Common Wombat from Victoria some years ago and he was flown over in a pet pack similar to the middle sized ones shown in figure 1.    Admittedly he was only 2.5 kegs at the time and you wouldn’t have known he was in there unless you had read the accompanying paperwork.

Young animals (say up to around the 15kg range) could be transported quite successfully in a pet pack.       But then, at the higher end of even this weight range, it would be prudent to put ropes or straps around the pet pack to avoid the animal breaking the door down.    It happens, believe me, I speak from experience!!  

Figure 13
Shows chewing damage on the bottom front lip and interior of a pet pack from a wombat during a one and a half hour road journey.

For adult animals the pet pack would only be used for short journeys and only if you have some way of stopping the animal kicking the door down.  They will also give the plastic a hard time (see figure 13).

The doors on these pet packs are not designed to stand up to this type of animal and particularly not one that has a destructive streak or who is exceptionally aggressive.    If you do use a pet pack, make sure the door is pushed up against the side of the transporting vehicle and the pet pack is jammed in tight so it cannot move.   I realise I am making this sound like a transporting nightmare but I am showing you what would really be the worst case scenario.    The majority of animals, even adults, will probably settle down after a short while, particularly if you are transporting them during the day.     You may have more difficulty if you intend to transport at night.     However, in any event, you need to be prepared for the unexpected.  

Wombats are notoriously unpredictable.

Another more complex method of transporting a wombat would be to make up a box something along the lines of the one shown at figure 14.   This would be for personal road transportation only, unless you are fond of throwing away large sums of money on airfreight but to be honest, again, I do not think the airlines would view this container as a suitable mode of transport.   

Figure 14

This box was made from 16mm veneered chipboard and has been used for a number of different animals for many years.   It has provision for a divider (which has been removed) towards one end which slides in from the top.   This is used when the animals are very small to give them an end of the box in which they can hide and use as a sleeping chamber.   This end also has a heater pad built into the floor controlled by a thermostat which you can see in the picture on the right.   Note also the sturdy handles and the lockable access door.

This particular one was designed as a temporary home for an orphaned animal in which it lived until it was time for it to go out into a proper enclosure.    It was also designed fit into the back of my station wagon with some room to spare.

If you are going to use something like this for transport only or temporary accommodation only then there is no need to go to the expense or trouble of installing a heater and thermostat under the ‘sleeping quarters” and if you are only going to house an adult animal for short periods then there is also no need for the divider within the box.   It is very important that you use a laminated product (I have also found that veneered is quite good but does not have the ‘staying power’); something like laminated chipboard is excellent and can be picked up at most scrap yards or second hand dealers quite cheaply.    The reason you need a laminated product is that the animals are unable to chew it, (which they will if you use ‘raw’ timber) as it is too shiny and slippy.    Because of this you will need a piece of old carpet, or similar, for the floor, so that the poor animal is not slithering around all over the place whilst you are on the move.   

Figure 15
Sketch drawing of wombat box

And so concludes our article on the transportation of a number of Australian native species but I’m sure it is by no means complete and we would be pleased top hear from anyone who could offer any additional methods or experiences over those described.     Please write to our box number or email the Editor.

Back to Part 1 

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

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