Plains, Trains and Automobiles

Plains, Trains and Automobiles

This article was originally published in the Winter 2018 Wild Times Newsletter.
Photo Credit: Wade Krasnow (Above Photo: Three Harbour seals, each with their own crate, arrive by plane from Quebec.)

People often ask, how do you move animals from one zoo to another? There is no simple answer. Many modes of transportation are used to safely transport animals, it all depends on the circumstances.

The Edmonton Valley Zoo belongs to several North American and global breeding programs. That means an animal destined for our zoo may travel a short distance from Calgary or all the way from Japan.

The fastest way for any animal to travel is by plane. While this may seem as simple as booking a space on the next flight, there are a many considerations. First, we need to ensure that International Air Transport Association (IATA) regulations are followed. These regulations dictate the type of shipping crate or container the animal needs, food and water requirements, type of substrate, temperature parameters, and safety considerations. In addition to this, our zoo has strict standards that must be adhered to when transporting animals.

Then, the flight needs to be booked. As there is limited space and size restrictions for crates, this is not as easy as it seems. Lastly, the animal must be transported to the airport by vehicle, arriving at least two hours prior to take off.

International shipments are even more complicated, and require documents such as import or export permits from various levels of government. As well, veterinary inspections are required upon landing in Canada and between connecting flights. Luckily, we can hire a broker who ensures the animal arrives safely into the country and onto its final destination.

When it comes to larger animals, they are usually moved by animal haulers in a livestock transport trailer. These haulers are experienced, and specialize in exotic animal transport. As with the airlines, haulers must follow federal guidelines for animal transport to ensure the animal’s safety and comfort.

Smaller animals often travel by car or van, especially if it’s a short distance. Boats and trains are also options. Sometimes, more than one type of transport is used to transfer an animal from one part of the world to another. The goal is always to choose the method that will cause as little stress and disruption for the animal.

Here at the Edmonton Valley Zoo, our red pandas, meerkats, Arctic wolf, golden lion tamarins, and harbour seals all arrived via air. The takins, reindeer, snow leopard, and camels came by truck. When Penelope the juvenile white-handed gibbon was transferred to an Ontario zoo, zookeepers picked her up in a car and accompanied her across Canada till she reached her new home.

Perhaps in the future, transporting animals will be as simple as it is on Star Trek – we will beam them from one place to another. But for now, it is trains, planes and automobiles!

Where Does the Zoo Find a Red Panda?

Some of our zoo residents are born here, like our baby Zebra.

Many of our guests ask, “Where does the Edmonton Valley Zoo get its animals?”

This is not a simple answer. There are no zoo stores with catalogues of animals to order and zoos do not collect animals from the wild except under special circumstances. Rather, there are many different ways zoos acquire animals for their collections.

Births, of course, do account for some of the arrivals at our zoo. This year the Edmonton Valley Zoo had two Sichuan takin calves, and red panda cubs born. Although baby animals are popular draws, accredited zoos do not breed their animals indiscriminately as the result would be an overpopulation, which in turn would cause housing and care challenges.

Many animals are part of the Species Survival Plan (SSP) programs, meaning that zoos worldwide work cooperatively to manage animal populations, thereby maintaining the greatest genetic diversity. The SSP often controls breeding in order to limit the number of offspring born each year.

Another way animals arrive at our zoo is through animal loans. Many animals are on breeding loans; sent from other facilities to be mated with animals currently living in our zoo. The offspring of these loans is shared between the zoos. Our snow leopards for example, arrived on breeding loans. Other types of loans include animals brought in for the summer to reside at the Urban Farm (calves, lambs, goats) and returned back to their owners in the fall.

Private donations are yet another we acquire animals. Many times a well-meaning pet owner buys a “cool” animal only to find out that they are not equipped to look after the animal. They soon realize the tiny two-inch Sulcata tortoise they bought grows and grows until it ends up to be over 200 pounds (91 kg) and three feet long (91 cm), and they can no longer deal with it. Sometimes the pets are illegal to possess and must be donated to a zoo. This was the case with our Serval cat, Pascha, and our Burmese python, Lucy. Sadly, unwanted pets often have issues with obesity, aggression, or they are bonded to humans.

Lambs and other farm animals are often on loan to the Urban Farm for the summer.

Serval cats are illegal to own in Alberta. Pasha was surrendered by his owner.

Rescue animals also make their way to the Edmonton Valley Zoo if they are unable to be rehabilitated and released back into the wild. Our male Peregrine falcon was brought to us when he was just a fledgling due to an injury leaving the nest. We were able to offer him a home here and saved him from being euthanized.

Lastly, when a zoo is in need of a particular species, and none are available for trade or loan, there is always the option of purchasing an animal from a breeder, pet store, another zoo, or a reputable animal dealer. Koko and Lala, our first two red pandas, came to us from a zoo in Japan in 2004 and more recently, we found Tundra, our male Arctic wolf, in a zoo in the Netherlands.

Whether our animals were born here, donated, or arrived via a loan, trade, or sale, together they make up our Edmonton Valley Zoo family.

You can help build the Red Panda’s a new home in Nature’s Wild Backyard, by becoming a Zoo 200 Member today!


Dragons are real and this summer, a pair made the Edmonton Valley Zoo their temporary home. Though they were not fire-breathing beasts circling in the sky, Komodo dragon sisters, Saphira and Ophelia, were just as mysterious and captivating as the mythical monsters of film and fable.

Discovering dragons at the zoo was a very big deal! This species is managed through SSP (Species Survival Plan), the international breeding program. The sisters, originally from a zoo in the United Kingdom, are on their way to another zoo in the United States where they will be coupled with suitable males for breeding. We were extremely fortunate the Komodos stopped off in Edmonton, giving zoo visitors a rare opportunity to observe this ancient species and learn more about their behaviours. The dragons were here until October while cross-border shipping permits were organized.

Komodo dragons are the largest living species of lizard on Earth. The largest verified specimen reached a length of 10.3 ft (3.13 m) and weighed 366 lbs (166 kg), but wild dragons are usually about 154 lbs and females are typically smaller.

Wild Komodo dragons are found only on Indonesia’s Lesser Sunda Islands and live up to 30 years.
These carnivores are fierce hunters and can bring down prey as large as a water buffalo. While they tend to overpower smaller prey, such as deer and other small mammals, they bring down larger animals with a single bite. Their venom helps stop the prey’s blood from clotting. With more than 50 strains of bacteria in the saliva, some of which are highly septic, the prey often dies within 24 hours.

Once bitten, the poisoned animal develops an infection. The dragon calmly follows the doomed animal, flicking its forked tongue to smell the air like a snake does, until it dies or is incapacitated. The lizard will then feast, with other dragons joining, eating up to 80 percent of their body weight at one meal.
While Komodo dragons seem fierce and frightening, they are also magnificent and majestic. Upon arriving at the Edmonton Valley Zoo, Saphira and Ophelia slowly made their way out of their shipping crates, flicking their tongues and raising themselves high on their legs to scope their new home. The Komodo habitat was constructed specifically to meet their exact needs with high temperature and humidity, and an ultraviolet light source. The duo approved of their new digs, quickly finding a spot where they could rest and survey their surroundings.

As this was our first experience with Komodo dragons at the Edmonton Valley Zoo, our keepers had a great deal to learn about their care and how to safely work with them. Being venomous and potentially dangerous, protocols on husbandry techniques were created to ensure both the keepers and animals were safe. For example, the zookeepers wear rubber boots, long pants and hold push boards – large, rigid plastic sheets used to herd hogs – to prevent the dragons from biting and whipping their tails.

It only took a few days for both sides to feel comfortable around each other but the dragons have an ever watchful eye that suggests they are plotting some hi-jinks or perhaps, studying the keepers. Whatever the case, this past summer, the bond between human and dragon grew at the Edmonton Valley Zoo.

Did you know you can adopt a reptile at the Edmonton Valley Zoo?