Death of sheep on board plane: Months of planning before animals are flown

Giant pandas Kai Kai (right) and Jia Jia who arrived from Chengdu, China, on a Boeing 747-400 freighter in September 2012. -- PHOTO: MY PAPER FILE
Giant pandas Kai Kai (right) and Jia Jia who arrived from Chengdu, China, on a Boeing 747-400 freighter in September 2012. -- PHOTO: MY PAPER FILE
The death of 174 sheep on board a Singapore Airlines Cargo plane from Perth to Singapore last week has raised questions on how animals are transported by air. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
The death of 174 sheep on board a Singapore Airlines Cargo plane from Perth to Singapore last week has raised questions on how animals are transported by air. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The death of 174 sheep on board a Singapore Airlines Cargo plane from Perth to Singapore last week has raised questions on how animals are transported by air.

Such deaths are rare and airlines take great care to ensure safe flight of animals, said the International Air Transport Association (Iata).

SIA cargo which carries livestock on a regular basis has flown plane loads of animals such as cattle for breeding programs. Other animals transported include race horses, alpacas and goats. The airline has also flown many species of exotic animals as part of conservation projects between zoos.

The most famous were giant pandas Kai Kai and Jia Jia who arrived from Chengdu, China, on a Boeing 747-400 freighter in September 2012. Throughout the journey, the cabin temperature was kept between 18 and 22 deg C, consistent with the temperature of the pandas' natural habitat.

The pandas travelled in custom-made crates that offered ventilation and space to move about. 'Inflight meals' of bamboo, fruit and water were provided by a team of five keepers and vets from both China and Singapore who were also on board.

Depending on the type of animals, it can take several months to prepare for the flight, including designing and building suitable pens. The size and other requirements are stipulated by Iata which works closely with specialists to provide the guidelines.

Before any flight, animals must first be checked by veterinarians and only healthy ones are allowed on board.

When transporting large animals, such as horses, sheep and cattle, attendants who are trained by the exporter must accompany the shipment on the flight. They check on the condition of the animals during the flight.

The aircraft ventilation system that serves the cargo compartments must be fully functional when animals are transported and this is checked prior to loading of the animals into the plane.

karam@sph.com.sg