Far-flung flings

Endangered animals are regularly jetted across the globe to contribute towards species conservation efforts. For the animals it may seem like a “holiday romance”, but for us it’s a “breeding programme”.

A glimpse behind the scenes

In this post, we will shed light on the stages of such a journey and the careful planning that goes into ensuring everything runs smoothly on the big day. To use a real-life example, we will focus on our two jaguars Anafi and Tipito and their move to South America.

Why did the jaguars need to move out?

When the Alfred Brehm building was built at the Tierpark in 1963, it was the largest and most modern predator house of its day. Today, it is a listed building. However, the big cat facility is in dire need of an upgrade; a report on the requirements for keeping mammals has determined that the historic structure no longer offers the modern accommodation required by its inhabitants. Preparations for renovation work are now in full swing.

Construction work takes up space

The work is scheduled to commence in early 2017. But before things can really get started, some of the inhabitants need to be relocated. As the big cats require more than just transitional accommodation, conservation programme coordinators need to find suitable new homes that are species-appropriate and ensure the animals can still be a part of conservation efforts. The Tierpark has therefore been on the prowl for a suitable new home for its jaguar couple since 2015. The first point of contact in this search was the studbook coordinator for the jaguar European Endangered Species Programme (EEP), who is based at Chester Zoo in England.

Looking beyond Europe

The hunt for a suitable new home for Tipito and Anafi in Europe was unsuccessful. So the curators cast their glance wider, extending the search to the other side of the Atlantic. Opportunities across the pond proved far more promising. Following intensive discussions with various colleagues in North and South America, the curators and keepers at Tierpark Berlin eventually decided on the Chilean National Zoo in Santiago.

A trip to Chile

In December 2015, the Tierpark’s big cat curator Christian Kern paid a visit to the Chilean National Zoo while on a private trip to South America, and was thus able to gain a first-hand impression of its feline facilities. “It was important to us that the two jaguars would be able to continue living together in their new home,” he explains. While talks were progressing with the Chileans, we also discussed Tipito and Anafi’s new home with the jaguar EEP coordinator, as the move would see the animals leave the European programme. Finally, everything was settled: Anafi and Tipito were off to South America!

The search ends – and the paperwork begins

Once the destination was decided, preparations for the journey could commence. Most overseas trips require more than simply booking a flight and packing a suitcase; many countries also require visitors to have a visa and proof of specific vaccinations. What can often be a time-consuming process for humans is even more complicated for other animals. Anyone who has moved continent with their four-legged friends, or simply wanted to take them along on a holiday outside Europe, probably has some experience of quarantine and other such rules. If that animal is on the endangered species list, there is an even greater mountain of paperwork to tackle: CITES.

The Washington Convention CITES the rules

CITES stands for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Despite the fact that this agreement adds one more obstacle to the already lengthy process of transporting zoo animals, the signing of the Convention in 1973 in Washington represents one of the greatest achievements for species protection and is a milestone in international zoo history. As part of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), CITES aims to stem the illegal trade in endangered animal and plant species all over the world and is therefore an important instrument in the fight against poaching. The Convention not only regulates the trade in animal and plant products such as ivory and wood, it also imposes strict conditions on the transport of live and taxidermied animals.

Important papers for our migrant mammals

First, in accordance with CITES, the German export and Chilean import documents needed to be obtained from the respective conservation authorities. These papers are checked at the ports of exit and entry – just like a passport. If Anafi and Tipito’s papers were incomplete or missing, their journey would have been over before it had even begun.

A quick check-up at the doctor’s

While the CITES papers were being prepared, the health certificate submitted by the Chilean veterinary authority was reviewed and modified by the Berlin Senate and the official veterinarian of Berlin’s Lichtenberg borough. It can easily take months for a full health certificate with all the appropriate tests to be drawn up and accepted by both parties. However, once the specific animal health requirements were known, the Tierpark was able to carry out all necessary tests within a four-week quarantine period. This included taking blood from the animals while they were under anaesthetic and e-mailing the results to Chile prior to departure.

Made-to-measure transport crates

While the health check was underway, the transport crates were already being specially made for the two jaguars. The size and configuration of the crates did not depend solely on the jaguars’ measurements – the obstacle course of international regulations was not over yet! In the case of the crates, International Air Transport Association (IATA) regulations had to be followed.

Once all requirements had been met and all documents – for animals and chaperone – were in order, Anafi, Tipito, and their keeper Angelika Berkling could finally book their flights. Angelika had already started acclimating the two jaguars to their transport crates so that loading day would be stress-free.

Timing is everything

Finally, the day arrived that everyone had been working towards for so long. Loading began on 19 October at 6 a.m. sharp. The crates had to leave Tierpark Berlin at 7 a.m. to allow the group enough time to catch their evening flight from Amsterdam. Whereas human passengers generally need to arrive at the airport no more than three hours before departure, animals – depending on the airport and flight – must check in around four to five hours in advance.

We spoke to keeper Angelika Berkling about her South American adventure with two jaguars in tow.


Angelika, you had only just accompanied the Amur tigers Alisha and Dragan to Dartmoor, and then you were off again – but this time further afield. Had you been to South America before or was this your first time on the continent?
The journey with jaguars Anafi and Tipito to Chile was my second business trip after the one to England with tigers Alisha and Dragan. I had never been to South America before – only with my finger on a map!
How was it that you ended up accompanying the jaguars? Did you sign up voluntarily?
Jaguars are the most intelligent of all the big cats, so it was really good for them to have someone they knew travel with them to their new home. These cats aren’t youngsters anymore – they know every trick in the book. With animals such as these it’s a big advantage to have a trusted keeper by their side for the journey and, above all, while they settle in. So I was really grateful that our curator, Mr Kern, asked me to accompany the two jaguars.
How did you feel on departure day? Were you nervous or are you a seasoned traveller?
I wasn’t nervous. Animals pick up on tension and nerves – particularly when the bond is as close as mine is with Anafi and Tipito.
Can you talk us through each stage of the transportation process? What does a journey like this entail for the animals and the keeper?
First, we had about four weeks of “rehearsals” – teaching the animals the route to the crates in a playful manner. On transportation day, everything ran like clockwork:
1. “Packed” the jaguars punctually in the morning
2. Departed by car to Amsterdam airport
3. Monitored the jaguars frequently throughout the journey and gave them water
4. Checked the jaguars in at Amsterdam airport in the afternoon
5. Gave them more water and some words of comfort
6. Checked myself in
7. Touched down in Santiago de Chile the following day
8. Picked the jaguars up from the cargo port
9. Drove by car through Santiago to the zoo
10. “Unpacked” the jaguars in their new home
How did the jaguars react? In the pictures they both look very relaxed. How much contact did you have with them during the journey?
Both jaguars were really calm. I managed to keep their spirits up on the journey to Amsterdam with comforting words and the odd tasty treat. Once in Amsterdam, the cats were loaded into the aircraft’s cargo hold and we didn’t have contact again until Santiago. By this point, their enthusiasm for the trip had diminished. They perked up again when they were given a nice piece of meat at the zoo.
How did you find Santiago? What were your first impressions of the city and the zoo? Did you like their new habitat?
Santiago is a big city and not all that different to Berlin – although Berlin isn’t surrounded by impressive 4,000-metre mountains! The zoo is small, but very lovingly designed. The jaguar habitat had been completely renovated for Anafi and Tipito. Because the zoo is on a mountainside, the habitat has an interesting layout with a height difference of ten to twelve metres. There are also plenty of structures for climbing. The habitat stretches across three levels and includes pools, flat surfaces, green areas and trees. It’s really lovely!
How long were you there and what did you get up to during your stay?
I was invited to spend five days at the zoo while the animals acclimatised, which was great for Anafi and Tipito – but also for me, of course. So every day I went to “work” and was constantly on hand for the jaguars and the keepers. After such a long journey, things such as reuniting the two cats can be risky. And when the keepers don’t know the animals, it can take days or even weeks until they dare to approach them. They have to get to know the animals first. Having me on site made certain things, such as reuniting the cats, really easy. Both the managers and the keepers were very happy about that. Of course, I saw a bit of the city, too, as all my colleagues at the zoo were great hosts.
What language did you use to communicate with the keepers – German, English, Spanish?
As I don’t speak Spanish, we mostly communicated in English. One of the vets spoke fluent German, which was ideal! The keepers even employed a former German intern to interpret for us one afternoon, as most of them only speak Spanish. That way, they could ask their questions and I could tell them all about Anafi and Tipito. That was great!
That sounds fantastic! Thank you for this exciting insight into your trip.

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