London Zoo lionesses navigate Brexit bureaucracy in landmark zoo transfer

ZSL London Zoo was faced with new paperwork requirements following Brexit and suspensions in light of Covid-19. Chief Curator Malcolm Fitzpatrick and animal moves coordinator Jackie Ossowski-Mackie lift the lid on how they mastered the new process

Could you talk about the recent lioness move to Germany that IAG Cargo facilitated?  

Malcolm Fitzpatrick, Chief Curator at ZSL: Sisters Rubi, Heidi and Indi – who were all born at London Zoo – were originally due to move to their new home in Germany last year but a combination of Covid-19 and Brexit meant things had to change.   

Queues and delays at UK ports in December, caused by the pandemic and the then-looming Brexit deadline, meant we made the decision to pause their move – we didn’t want to send the lionesses on their way without a firm guarantee that their journey would be a smooth one. But this unfortunately meant that we missed the Brexit cut-off on December 31, and had to effectively restart the whole process to move the lionesses.  

Our animal moves coordinator worked non-stop on the logistics – it’s not as simple as booking a ticket online when you’re sending three big cats on a 550-mile journey. Luckily their travel crates were one thing we didn’t have to worry about, thanks to ZSL’s partners Liontrust who supported this entire move. Liontrust ensured we were able to have custom-built crates made for the girls’ travels, which finally took place on April 8th 2021, and their ongoing support for our Asiatic lions is invaluable.   

The move was coordinated as part of the European breeding programme for the species – their departure paved the way for us to introduce a new female named Arya to our male Bhanu. Arya arrived from Paignton Zoo in late April and is settling in well. These moves help ensure that we preserve the genetic diversity of the animals in the breeding programme, and protect a healthy, back-up population of these Endangered animals for the future.  

What considerations did you have to take into account?

Malcolm Fitzpatrick, Chief Curator at ZSL: So many members of the team are involved whenever animals move between zoos as part of global breeding programmes: Zookeepers work with their animals to prepare them for the transfer, and detailed planning goes into the on-the-day logistics, from keepers encouraging animals into their travel crates and making them comfortable ahead of the journey, to the grounds team carefully moving the crates across the zoo in either a forklift or a van, and finally to securing the crates into the transport vehicle and doing final welfare checks before they’re sent on their way.  

Lionesses transported for ZSL London Zoo

Jackie Ossowski-Mackie, ZSL’s animal moves coordinator: As we missed the Brexit deadline for moving our lions, new paperwork requirements came into play in January 2021. Both zoos were required to apply for respective import/export CITES permits and the EU’s online platform for health certification was no longer available for the UK to use. Instead, negotiating between British and German authorities, an approved health certificate was issued for the lionesses to travel. 

What did you learn from this move that you’ll apply to future moves?  

Malcolm Fitzpatrick, Chief Curator at ZSLThis was the first major zoo-to-zoo transfer between UK-EU following Brexit and was only achievable through close collaboration with all partners and adapting to new legislative requirements, whilst always ensuring the welfare of the individual animals first and foremost. We have decades of experience in moving animals between zoos as part of breeding programmes, and each move, though fundamentally the same, is always a unique planning process – with consideration of the individual animal’s requirements and their different journeys in mind. This move was delayed by factors beyond our control, and it was a reminder that we need to be adaptable in changing circumstances. I am immensely proud of the whole team for how they rose to the challenge.  

How do you ensure animals are comfortable and content before and during transfer?  

Malcolm Fitzpatrick, Chief Curator at ZSL: The journey was made possible by ZSL partners Liontrust, who kitted the big cats out with bespoke crates to ensure they travelled in style to their new home – each one was fitted with a customised feeding portal, so they could enjoy drinks during the flight. We had individual custom crates installed in each of the lionesses night dens months before the move, so the girls were well used to them ahead of the trip. They liked them so much that they ended up using them as cosy snoozing spots, which meant when it was time to move they simply walked inside and settled down for the journey.  

If you could give any advice to other zoos or live animal shippers on air transfers, what would it be? 

Jackie Ossowski-Mackie, ZSL’s animal moves coordinator: It’s all in the preparation, check, check and check again that everything is in order to ensure swift processing. Making sure the paperwork is correct, checking crate IATA specifications, making sure all our animals’ requirements can be achieved in transit to ensure their best welfare and examining flight times to ensure they are practical and the best for both the animals and any trained staff accompanying them.  

Looking to move live animals? Find out more.