We chat to Kathryn Angel, General Manager at SEA LIFE Loch Lomond about how April the sea turtle found a new home in Scotland with the help of IAG Cargo

In 2019 a sea turtle, later named April, was found injured in a ghost net in the Maldives. After spending some time recuperating in a specialist turtle rehabilitation centre, it was decided April needed to be moved to SEA LIFE Loch Lomond in Scotland. We talk to Kathryn Angel, General Manager at SEA LIFE Loch Lomond about April’s mammoth 19-hour journey, why it was so vital, and the role IAG Cargo played in her fascinating, three-years-in-the-making trip.

First of all, tell us about April the turtle – what happened to her and why did she need your help?

April was found in April 2019, hence her name. She was found in Raa Attol – one of the islands in the Maldives. Her front fin was tangled in a ghost net, and she was found floating in a plastic bag. Her front fin was already amputated; they believe the ghost net had been tangled around her for quite some time, so it had naturally amputated. She was taken to the turtle rehabilitation centre where they also took x-rays and found out she had a lung infection, so she was treated with antibiotics. Due to the infection, she has tears in her lungs, so she has buoyancy problems. She’s not able to dive down for food, she’s exposed to the sun because she’s floating on the surface, and she can’t escape from any predators.

Why was this journey so vital for April and why was it important that she was brought to the Scotland?

Because of her injuries she can’t be released back into the wild so she can’t stay in the centre long-term as they don’t have the facilities for that. April is the seventh flying turtle with the Marine Savers ‘Flying Turtle’ programme where they relocate turtles that can’t be released back into the wild. They relocate them to aquariums or other suitable facilities across the world.

We were contacted by the Marine Savers as a potential rehoming centre for her and so the journey was vital because without us, they wouldn’t have anywhere to rehome her. The facilities they had were very small with holding tanks which no animal could live in long-term. She couldn’t be released back into the wild, so the option was to move her to the UK and into Scotland.

During her journey, April travelled more than 5,000 miles. How did you prepare her for her flight to the UK?

You have to complete health checks on the animal first so the veterinary experts at the turtle centre did the health checks at pre-departure from the Maldives. We also completely coated her in Vaseline so that her skin and shell doesn’t dry out. She’s then popped into a transport box with wet towels so it keeps her nice and moist – it’s a wooden crate with a padded bottom and holes in the side for ventilation so she can comfortably breathe. She travelled dry – she doesn’t travel in water – but kept moist. And she’s transported at an air temperature of around 24 degrees. The airline set the temperature within her radius to keep her nice and warm throughout the journey.

Once she got into the UK she was then transported up to Scotland from Heathrow by road. The compartment in the van was then kept at the 24-26 degrees temperature and health checks were completed on her at Heathrow by the veterinary team at the Animal Health Handling Centre before she was transported up to SEA LIFE. Now she’s at SEA LIFE, our company vets also completed health checks and blood tests just to make sure she’s nice and healthy before we introduce her to the other creatures.

How did you team up with IAG Cargo to ensure she was transported safely and ethically?

It was all about her care from start to finish. IAG Cargo were fantastic with their support they gave us. They liaised with the authorities at the Maldives side of the airport because there was a lot of work involved with dealing with customs, making sure she was 100% cared for pre going on to the British Airways flight. Also, when we got back to Heathrow, Valerie from IAG Cargo met the crate, took it across to the veterinary health centre there and checked her over, gave us a call to say she was fine, and put more Vaseline on her there. We didn’t get to see her until she got to SEA LIFE Loch Lomond as she was under the full care of IAG Cargo for the whole journey.

They completely handled the whole process for us from start to finish, which was amazing. It took so much stress out of the journey having them onboard and taking care of her – we knew she was well cared for.

How did you ensure the turtle was comfortable during her transfer?

She had a padded crate so that she couldn’t cause any injuries to herself when she was being transported. She wasn’t sedated in any way shape or form – that’s not something we tend to do. We’ve got to make sure that once she’s in her transport crate she can’t cause herself any harm whatsoever. So, it was padded and she was well-protected to make sure she didn’t bash herself. Naturally, she was going to move so we had to make sure the dimensions were as such so she had plenty of space to move around.

What were they key factors that affected her safe transport?

It was purely her temperature. We had to keep checking her body temperature as well to make sure that she was comfortable. It’s not only her body temperature like you’d consider with a human, you’ve also got to consider the temperature of her shell as well. That’s something we’re having to consider long-term – ­­because she can’t dive down, she can also lose body temperature quite easily because she floats on the surface, so we must consider the air temperature of the building at any time because her shell is completely exposed.

We’re the first in the UK to transport a turtle using IAG Cargo for the Marine Savers’ programme – we’re looking at the possibility of transporting more in the future. This is my very first experience of working with IAG Cargo, as well. It’s been amazing. I can’t fault the team. They took all the stress out of that side of the things for us. They told us what we needed to do from start to finish. We handed all our paperwork over to them and we never had to worry about anything until the moment April arrived with us up in Scotland.

What does April’s future look like now that she’s safely in Loch Lomond?

She’s going to live a very happy life. She’s well-loved and well-cared for by our expert animal care team. Since we’ve introduced her to her new home, she’s flourished. She’s so active compared to what she was in the small temporary enclosure that she was previously in back in the Maldives.

We’re going to continue monitoring her health and working with her and doing different exercises. She’s already inquisitive; she loves people. She’s coming up to the front of the glass to see children face-to-face and I think that’s a really good working example – especially for children and those educating the next generation – of the impact that plastic pollution can have first-hand. It’s a real living example of how a plastic bag could go in the water in Scotland and it could end up in the Maldives and could have an impact on a creature.