Ground transportation plays a significant role in moving animals from place to place. Even when animals are transported by air, dependable ground transportation chauffeurs the animals to the airport and then, later, to their final destination.
Kenneth Kobus, director of logistics at Charles River Laboratories, provided an overview of the available options. Robert Fernandez, vice president of operations and quality assurance for Direct Services, Inc., then offered a close-up view of the environmental conditions in trucks and how qualified shippers care about the health and safety of the live animals they ship. Together, the pair communicated that choosing the right land carrier for animals requires as much thought as moving them by air.
Kobus elaborated on the many kinds of transit companies that shippers1 might choose and the range of available services. Dedicated contract carriers, for example, often perform additional services for their customers, such as operating transfer facilities as animals make their way across the country. Pricing is generally high, because costs are based on mileage and types of vehicles, but also because of the special nature of the shipment, the timing, and the fact that special handling and ventilation are required. Specific requirements by a shipper—for example, the shipment be the only one on the truck—must be clearly noted on the contract, Kobus said.
Fernandez focused his discussion on temperature- and time-sensitive commodity shipments, one of which would be live animals. His company’s goals are clear: Animals arrive alive and healthy, maintain the same biosecurity status with which they started, and arrive on time. Direct Services expects to meet all regulatory requirements while keeping its personnel safe. Transporting laboratory animals is always stressful for the animals—therefore, the goal is always to minimize their stress as much as possible, Fernandez said. Like airlines, ground carriers must comply with numerous regulations from USDA and other federal agencies, state
1 For definitions and terminology commonly used in the transportation process, see page 4.
departments of health, state fish and wildlife departments, and other regulatory bodies.2 However, the transportation of rats and mice, which are the most numerous laboratory animals, is not regulated by the Animal Welfare Act, Fernandez observed. Nevertheless, he noted, his company treats all animals as if they were regulated in order to ensure proper and humane treatment.
Fernandez reviewed many of the container requirements related to cleanliness, ventilation, and safety issues; food and water availability; and so on. Most importantly, he said, all transport containers must be guaranteed to contain the animal for the duration of the trip. He explained that animals are monitored regularly for any sign of distress and also must be sheltered from rain and snow, direct sunlight, and cold weather. His company ensures that the air in the cargo area allows normal breathing of all the animals being moved. Air temperature is carefully monitored, aiming for a range not to fall below 45 degrees Fahrenheit or above 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
According to Fernandez, USDA3 requires a disaster plan be in place. Questions to consider when designing a disaster plan include what kind of disaster is likely to occur? Who will do what in case of emergency? The shipper of the animals is responsible for ensuring that the entire route is planned ahead of time and is safe for the animals. The shipper is also responsible for all the documents, health certificates, and permits that may be required by any state through which the animals travel. Adequate planning is especially critical when animals are being moved a long distance, such as across the country. Are teams of drivers in place? Are all the documents in order?
Fernandez said that ground transportation has many advantages. For example, a ground transporter is likely to have better environmental control than an airline. His trucks have a refrigerated unit and tighter temperature range. Noise is controlled. Some offer disinfected cargo areas. He added that safety requirements are having the effect of shutting down unsafe carriers.
Importantly, drivers for Direct Services have cell phones and GPS
3 CFR [Code of Federal Regulations]. 2013. Title 9, Part 2. Animal Welfare Regulations; Subpart C, Research Facilities. Washington, DC: Office of the Federal Register. Available at https://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_welfare/downloads/Animal%20Care%20Blue%20Book%20-%202013%20-%20FINAL.pdf (accessed on September 14, 2017).
tracking in case of emergency, or if they get lost. They also have temperature alarm pagers for when drivers are away from their vehicle in a restaurant or rest area. Ground transportation, however, can be more costly than air, Fernandez noted, especially for small shipments.