Animal transportation is the intentional movement of animals by transport. Common categories of animals transported include horses for racing, breeding and other competition horses, zoological animals, pets relocation, farming animals such as cattle, sheep and other livestock including camels.
With over two decades of experience in horse transportation and pioneers in animal transportation, Equitrans has more or less seen it all and done it all. The past 20-years has seen the Equitrans team coordinate the transport of over 50,000 horses and other animals to over 100 countries around the globe. Here's David Robson, Managing Director, Equitrans on the outlook and challenges. Edited Excerpts.
What are the key challenges for transporting animals, especially in the post-pandemic period?
Transporting live animals, and especially horses, offers many challenges in normal times, whilst during and post-pandemic, the challenges faced by the team reached a completely new level, effectively forcing us to innovate by the hour.
This tested us but in many ways made us sharper and more resilient in a business that is demanding in itself and requires meticulous planning for a smooth operation.
With over 20-years in the equine shipping business, Equitrans has seen its fair share of disruption in the industry: from the fallout of 9/11 and the financial collapse of 2008/9 to regional equine disease outbreaks. Yet, nothing really prepared us for the instantaneous worldwide impact that Covid-19 and its aftermath would wreak across many industries worldwide.
We have had contingency plans for years, which is required in this industry, yet we never imagined a disruptor of this extent to occur. What has always made us most effective as a team is always having a “Plan A… B, and even C” on hand as there are so many dynamic and unforeseen factors that require managing as we go.
So, in this regard, Covid-19 and the aftermath hit hard but we had experienced equine disease outbreaks, quarantines and vaccinations to manage these outbreaks that were similar but smaller in nature involving horses. So, we adapted to some of it better than those working in other industries as we had a form of understanding on the restrictions and quarantine being applied.
We were forced to adapt to changes quickly which included working from home, flight grooms trapped by new travel regulations, and, of course, the significant fluctuations in flight availability and costs. While many of these Covid-19 related factors have since been resolved, we are still faced with increased costs, staffing issues in some quarantine facilities, regulation changes to border inspection posts, and the discontinuation of certain flights.
Yet, it's not all been bad. It’s been good to see increased freighter service volume even as passenger services and belly capacity become available.
Even with Covid a distant memory, our dynamic and constantly evolving industry still regularly witnesses changes in everything from the vet preparation to required blood testing and vaccinations, the transit and import requirements, quarantine and airlines. Each element must tie into a specific time frame, and if any part is out of sync, it forces changes throughout the entire plan.
Of course, it goes without saying that containing the costs when things change or do not go to plan is one of our biggest challenges with live animals - meaning, consistent and significant attention to detail throughout the entire process is required, and the Equitrans team maintains a “hands on approach” with all shipments.
How have regulations changed over the last two decades for animal transport?
There is a constant development of live animal transport regulations, and things continue to improve for better welfare of animals and mitigating disease risks to countries. We have evolved from transporting horses on narrow body aircrafts with open top stalls, to enclosed customised stalls for horses on wide body freighters. This has become a plus as we can fly horses into airports closest to their destination and reduce stress through prolonged transit times and road haulage.
In terms of health regulations, this is something that continues to evolve and expand depending on a specific country’s import and export health requirements plus any diseases that the exporting country may or may not have and new countries that begin to import and export from.
In addition to Covid, one of the biggest changes we faced in the recent past was Brexit, which involved significant changes to the way animals transit between Europe and the U.K.
Your expertise is transporting horses - what changes have you noticed in the area over the last couple of years. What changes are you expecting in the area in the coming years?
The GCC region has a heritage and is passionate about its equine industry and is continuously investing and expanding the industry. We have seen, and continue to see, growth across the various equestrian disciplines with bigger and better international events hosted year on year.
With the increased movement of performance horses, into and out of the region, the need for specialised companies like Equitrans that has the expertise to handle the complete stable-to-stable or end-to-end logistics and management of health, veterinary and quarantine stabling of horses becomes paramount.
How different is pet relocation compared to transport of other animals?
Equitrans is a company that specialises in the movement of horses, live animals and pet relocation. The movement of horses is far more specialised and has a lot more requirements and protocols to consider compared to relocating pets, which, in general, is less complicated.
For example, the preparation and work involved in transporting horses and larger live animals internationally requires considerable planning, usually between four and six weeks and this includes quarantine, blood testing and vaccinations. However, in regard to pets, there simply aren't so many tests and vaccinations required, and most countries don’t require any quarantine period for pets.
All horse flights require a professional flying groom (animal attendant) and their job is to look after the horses throughout the flight or often from stable to stable, ensuring their safety and are watered and fed.
Equitrans has handled shipments of "exotic" animals - cheetahs, camels, zebras and more...what are the challenges here and how is it different from regular animal transport?
Over the years, the volumes of exotic animals transported have grown and these are mainly for conservation projects, zoo parks and conservation-breeding programmes.
Of course, exotics are more challenging to transport and require more documentation and permissions such as Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and zoo exchange permits between specific countries. So, the preparation again takes time and meticulous planning.
In addition, we need to ensure that the crates and penning systems used consider the animals’ welfare and safety. This often can mean designing and creating bespoke units for specific shipments.
We also provide specialist veterinarians and certified animal handlers to ensure the safe and swift movement of animals adhering to industry best practice from door to door.
What, according to you, works better for animal transport - charters? Belly capacity?
For all large animals, horses and exotics, we have to use the main deck capacity. Depending on the route and numbers, we operate charters, part charters and scheduled services.
All smaller animals and pets will go in the belly, provided it is temperature controlled and pressurised. This is where most pets fly.
What is your outlook for animal transport? How has your business grown over the last couple of years?
The Covid-19 pandemic saw pet ownership grow significantly as people craved companionship during lockdown. For us, this has created a positive outlook in pet relocations - both domestic and overseas.
Horse movements are predicted to grow as equestrian competitions attract more media coverage and bigger prize purses with trade and breeding continuing to grow in new and emerging markets.
Live animals, and especially horses, are considered a premium product by most airlines. This means they not only carry significant prestige but the airfreight carriage and freight rates are higher than most general cargo.
With the growth in live animals (AVI) products, we’ve seen more and more airlines invest in customised stalls, specialised facilities and other requirements to carry horses and other live animals.
Our business has grown considerably over the last two years with air movements increasing by 30 percent and roads by over 40 percent. This comes as Equitrans has evolved into the international markets handling projects and events, beyond the Middle East.