Southwest African lions fly across the Atlantic aboard TAP Portugal

Surya Kannoth
On 26 April, four lions born at Lisbon Zoo left their home for a new life. After flying over 8000 kilometres over two days, they were placed in their new habitat at the Pomerode Zoo, in Brazil.

These four special passengers arrived on a Tap Portugal flight from Lisbon to São Paulo. The adult Southwest African lions were flown aboard the A340 named Fernão Mendes Pinto, on flight TP87.

The lions, which are part of a threatened species, were not sedated or tranquilized in any way for the trip. “No extraordinary measures were needed because these animals are used to a type of container, similar to the transportation container; therefore they are totally adapted to it. It would be counter-productive to use tranquilization, it is better for them to travel awake,” explained Rui Bernardino, a veterinarian of Lisbon Zoo. The fact they travelled together, i.e. they were not isolated, give the animals a greater sense of security.

During the flight between Lisbon and São Paulo, the roars of the lions were heard in the cabin. Since the passengers were not aware of the transport operation, they did not understand what was happening, but the crew immediately associated the sound with the special passengers travelling in the hold.

Bruno Aires, sales manager of TAP Cargo in Portugal, highlighted the importance of transporting these animals, the first of their subspecies to reach the American continent. He added that over the past few years TAP has transported other special passengers - including koalas, eagles, a seal, and a hippopotamus.

“We take care of the safety and comfort of the animals on the pallets so that there are no dislocations inside the aircraft and so that it is safe. We are also making the necessary verifications of the aircraft safety patterns, in accordance with all IATA rules,” said Bruno Aires, sales manager, TAP Cargo.

According to Pedro Mendes, director of TAP Cargo Brazil, this operation was an unforgettable experience for the entire team.

After the lions reached Sao Paulo, they were moved to the Pomerode Zoo - the journey took about 10 hours, although the distance was only 600 kilometres. Around noon, the four lions were officially presented to the public at Pomerode Zoo. One of them, however, did not want to come out of the cage, and he only joined his brothers when they called him.

Photos and video: TAP Portugal