Hundreds of extraordinary animal species live at Burgers' Zoo. European population management programmes for endangered species regularly involve exchanges of animals between zoos across Europe (and sometimes beyond). There is a lot involved in planning and organising this type of transportation, including taking into account the natural behaviour and specific characteristics of an animal species, which also play a significant role in the process. In this series, we highlight several special animal transports. This time: the giraffe.
Both Burgers' Zoo and the host zoo want the transport to go as smoothly as possible, without stress and with minimal inconvenience. The animal must be given a clean bill of health prior to transportation. The process of transporting an animal requires a lot of organisation. In the case of giraffes, we already routinely perform an extensive parasitic and bacterial examination of the faeces. We share the animal's entire medical and behavioural history with the receiving zoo, including deworming, health checks, treatments and any specific behaviour of the animal. Animal transport involves extensive paperwork and is closely monitored and approved by the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA). Rothschild's giraffes, the subspecies that can be admired at our zoo, do not require CITES permits.
Giraffes have one physical aspect that doesn’t go unnoticed—they are incredibly tall mammals! Bulls can grow up to 5.5 to 6 metres tall; cows usually stay a bit smaller. Animal transportation companies have a special trailer no less than six metres high. Once the giraffe is in the trailer, the driver can lower the top part of the trailer to four metres—the maximum driving height in our country—to ensure they can pass under all the bridges. A giraffe doesn't normally hold its neck outstretched all the time, so the lowering isn't a problem. On longer journeys, the trailer is raised back up to six metres every time the transport stops for a break. Most giraffes are transported when they are still young and not fully grown, making it much easier.
General anaesthesia of giraffes can be risky. With their huge bodies, Giraffes have a large heart to pump blood through the body to the brain. Because of the long neck, the distance between the heart and the brain is quite large, so extremely high blood pressure is required to supply the brain with oxygen. When the animal is anaesthetised, this blood pressure causes complications if the head suddenly falls to the ground, which is why we keep the head as high as possible—usually on a sloping ladder—while they are immobilised. These circumstances, which must be taken into account, make the transportation of a giraffe a risky undertaking.
Fortunately, the giraffes at our zoo do not need to be anaesthetised for transport. We have constructed a long, narrow corridor through which the giraffe walks towards the open trailer. One of the zookeepers slowly and calmly herds the giraffe towards the trailer using a forklift truck with a large rectangular plate on it, allowing the animal to walk slowly and surely towards the trailer. Using this method, we have managed to get giraffes into the trailer in under ten minutes. During transport, we keep shutters open to ensure sufficient fresh air, and there is enough hay in the trailer to last the journey. The animal is given water at each break. Once in the trailer, the transport of a giraffe is actually quite similar to that of a horse being driven to a riding school—only the height differs quite a bit!