A series of presenters at the workshop addressed container design features, legal requirements and guidelines for containers and shipments, health requirements, and in-transit requirements for several species of laboratory animals. They also reviewed species-specific needs during transit.
Joe Simmons, a laboratory animal veterinarian and independent consultant with Insight Diagnostics and Consulting, gave workshop attendees a sense of the complexities of transporting nonhuman primates (NHPs). He, too, pointed to the need for good planning. NHP transportation is a trying exercise in planning and logistics, he said. Every detail must be thoroughly thought through and planned out, including permitting, both ends of ground transportation, air transportation, and preparation for weather. A research primate costs between $3,000 and $10,000 per animal, so a shipment of 1,000 animals can represent a total value in the millions of dollars.
Managing the numerous documents required is an essential part of shipping NHPs. In the United States, it often takes 3 to 4 months to receive a CITES export permit from FWS. Many countries have a pre-export quarantine process that lasts from 4 to 6 weeks and must be fulfilled before animals can be exported. The CDC quarantine process can be lengthy as well.
Weather, and especially temperature, can vary greatly along the route from city of export, refueling stop(s), city of arrival, and the ground transportation route. Animals may be leaving from a country with a temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit, but intermediate stops for refueling may be below zero. Furthermore, even if it is 100 degrees Fahrenheit on the tarmac at the city of arrival, the crew will be gowned, gloved, and wearing Tyvek suits. While regulations are strict about how long animals
can be exposed to weather extremes, such rules do not exist for people, requiring that contingency plans be in place.
Sturdy crates that meet IATA standards are crucial, Simmons observed. He also pointed out that it is possible that a crate meets IATA standards but not the USDA and the FWS standards (see Box 5-1). A 2- to 4-kilogram cynomolgus macaque, for instance, requires a crate that is big, heavy, and carefully constructed of strong wood to ensure that the animal cannot chew through it.
The inspections required when animals come into the United States are very thorough. Simmons described his own experience with two FWS inspectors “who took a flashlight and looked at every single monkey—all 1,000 to 1,500 monkeys—looking at every single eyeball, making sure that every animal was okay. And they were. We had an inspector from CDC that day, as well, to make sure that the quarantine shipment was handled appropriately.”
For the period from October 1, 2012, to September 30, 2013, CDC reported that 19,678 NHPs were imported into the United States with 2 recorded deaths, or 0.01 percent, said Simmons. “We would like it to be perfect, but it’s getting pretty close,” he said. “A lot of care and thought goes into transporting NHPs.”
Marshall BioResources is a global supplier of purpose-bred beagles, mongrels, ferrets, and guinea pigs raised in the United States, the United Kingdom, and China. Vice president Andy Smith echoed many of the themes of the workshop in urging careful planning, particularly with regard to the documentation required by various countries, states, and agencies (see Box 5-2). Smith also discussed the pros and cons of air versus ground transportation. The advantage of air transport is that the animals are in transit for the shortest period of time, whereas ground transportation provides better environmental control, he said.
Transporting dogs and similar animals involves many complex regulations, but all are designed around the animals’ safety and well-being. Smith urged taking care with documentation and crate selection, understanding the risks, and preparing accordingly. Working with organizations that understand best practices can avoid many potential pitfalls.
Public perception is beginning to affect the transportation of research animals in general, and dogs in particular, Smith said. The number of airlines that will accept research dogs has declined steadily and significantly partially due to public relations. The chief executive officers of some airlines that have accepted animal shipments for decades have received literally tens of thousands of form letters by email in a 24-hour period. To avoid tarnishing their companies’ image, they may make a decision to discontinue shipments of research animals.
“We’ve had situations where the pilot would refuse to accept a shipment of research dogs, because it’s their personal opinion that dogs shouldn’t be used in biomedical research,” Smith said. While protesters may be well meaning, often animals will be in transit for much longer if they cannot fly. Ultimately, Smith noted, if animals cannot be moved to the destination where they are needed, research may move to where the animals originate, which is likely to be Asia.
Keynote speaker William White of Charles River Laboratories also spoke about the transport of mice, rats, and small mammals. A wide variety of considerations go into the design, dimensions, construction, ventilation, labeling, and use of shipping containers (see Box 5-3). Containers that comply with IATA construction standards are available commercially. White urged those who are using IATA’s LAR as part of their guidance to use the most current version of the guidelines.
Air shipment is highly regulated by government agencies and other oversight; it is not designed for the shipper’s convenience, White reminded workshop participants. For example, animals need to get to the airport 2 hours ahead of time but not more than 4 hours ahead of time. Shipping internationally involves a maze of requirements, and failure to
meet them may halt animals’ movement at any point during the journey.
White mentioned the “mouse passport,” an idea developed by the National Centre for Replacement, Refinement, and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs). This is not a legal document but a detailed packing list with assembly instructions and an operating manual.
Founded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Zebrafish International Resource Center at the University of Oregon has the mission of collecting and distributing the zebrafish model worldwide. The use of fish has risen rapidly in popularity in recent decades. According to the Center’s David Lains, this is because fish have external transparent embryos, fast life cycles and development, easily studied and manipulated genetics, and a number of transgenic lines. They are used not only in biomedical research but in evolutionary biology and ecology research as well. They can be kept at high densities and shipped during various stages of their life cycle. Adult fish can be moved faster, said Lains, but transporting embryos provides better biosecurity. While embryos are more cost effective, they are also more sensitive to temperature fluctuations and delays. Cryopre-served sperm is the safest and densest way of moving collections around the planet, he said.
Many considerations go into shipping fish (see Box 5-4). For example, Lains pointed out that animals need to be kept warm during transit, but for every 10 degrees Centigrade change, fish metabolism halves or doubles depending on the temperature zone. Because of this, Singapore is a much more dangerous location to ship fish than Iceland, even in the winter.
The export of zebrafish falls under the jurisdiction of FWS; USDA gets involved only if the recipient countries request health certification, and customs and border control are also involved. Lains recommended working with the carrier to develop the necessary document packages.
An underlying theme of the workshop was that unpredictable things can happen. An example was the explosion of the volcano Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland while a shipment of fish was en route to Ireland. The fish were rerouted hundreds of miles south. After multiple attempts to recover them, the authorities of the country where they arrived responded that the fish were “gone and not recoverable.” Lains suspected they were being sold to tropical fish wholesalers. He sent a general inquiry asking
how its news agencies would like a story about genetically modified fish being sold to children as pets. “Within days, the fish were in Ireland,” Lains said. “Sometimes you have to think out of the box.”
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