Andrew Wilson looks at the risk management and insurance implications of transporting exotic animals

A spate of more than 20 deaths from avian flu and the cull of millions of birds in Asia since the beginning of this year has brought to the fore, once again, the issue of animal transportation. Three years ago, it was foot and mouth disease which was hitting the worldwide headlines, resulting in the slaughter of millions of farm animals as the rampant disease spread internationally through livestock movements. The devastating spread of foot and mouth reinforced the need for high standards within the animal transportation industry, and insurers specialising in this type of business have not only taken note, but increasingly insist on best practice risk management techniques.Away from the transportation of animals for food, wild and exotic animal relocations are becoming more commonplace in order to save animals from extinction and habitat pressure. Successfully underwriting the transportation of these live animals is complex and often subject to forces and situations not normally encountered by those covering the shipping of inert goods.As a result of these complexities, the market for brokers looking to place this type of business for their clients is generally limited to a small number of specialists, mainly within the Lloyd's market.The main restriction to entry for new capacity is the need for underwriters to have considerable hands-on experience in order to avoid potentially costly losses. To reach best practice levels, underwriters should conduct field trips to analyse the risk for the specialist transportation of high value animals. As a result, the Crowe Livestock team has travelled all over the world undertaking risk assessments and site visits. These have included visiting the US to underwrite the transportation of killer whales, travelling to South Africa to undertake a risk assessment on a pair of elephants, and going to the Caribbean to study the latest dolphin shipping techniques.

Key factorsGoing back to basics, exotic animals must be handled carefully in order for these often endangered species to arrive at their destination fit and well. When underwriting any exotic animal transportation risk the following key factors are taken into account when agreeing a premium rate and cover available:- type and age of animal;
- country of origin;
- journey length;
- method of shipping;
- destination; and
- experience of in transit support team.
The majority of the information required is usually provided by brokers through the standard risk introduction chain of regional broker to global broker to underwriter. Years of experience and extensive loss databases also help to analyse the likelihood of a loss occurring for a species of animal being transported by, for example, air freight with a particular airline.The heart of the underwriting process is proactive risk management, although this can only be conducted by an animal specialist with a deep understanding of their needs. Most animals instinctively fear the strange environments they are likely to encounter during transportation, so it is essential that basic principles are complied with in order to ensure the welfare and comfort of the animal during transit.The overriding aim of any risk manager moving animals will be to reduce the amount of stress that they will undoubtedly experience during a journey.Introducing animals in advance of the journey to the type of container that they will travel in, the food, water and other conditions they are likely to encounter, will help keep stress levels to a minimum.Where animals are able to indulge in their natural behaviour, they feel more comfortable and are less likely to react adversely, and the expertise of the specialist is paramount in understanding the best conditions for each species. Some animals such as ostriches travel better when kept in dark or semi-dark containers, as this encourages them to rest; others such as big cats should not be transported in mixed breeds, as this can trigger fighting. Animals such as antelopes and gazelle that normally exhibit a herding instinct can be shipped in group containers, whereas those which lead a solitary and mainly territorial life will need to be crated individually. Overcrowding can cause panic, fighting and increased stress levels.Mature males will quickly become upset by the presence of females on heat and should be kept quite separate, whilst pregnant females will need more space and will react differently from other animals within the same shipment. Heavily pregnant females and those suckling young should not be transported under any circumstances.

Environmental factorsThe majority of animals will be affected by temperature extremes. This is especially true of monkeys and other primates, which are particularly susceptible to heat stress. Whilst most animals can withstand reasonable variations in temperatures, exposure to excessive drafts can be fatal.Thus consideration must be given not only to temperature changes, but also to the chill factors involved. Providing some form of shelter or protection reduces this risk, but care must be taken to avoid suffocation; the provision of ventilated accommodation during transportation is self-explanatory. On the other hand, animals must also not be exposed to direct heat such as placing them in sunlight or near to other sources of heat, as to do so will lead to excessive dehydration and possible death. Pressure differences and therefore the location of animals in the holding areas are particularly important on air transits.The need for quarantine prior to travel is also an issue for insurers; quarantined animals should obviously travel separately from any non-quarantined animals. Biosecurity also plays an important part of any journey with animals being provided with clean, purpose-built quarters in which to travel.As well as considering the possible effects of housing during transportation on the likelihood of loss, the loading and unloading of animals must be taken into account, as this is often one of the most stressful parts of a journey. Animals feel vulnerable when entering strange surroundings, and sufficient time must be allowed for the safe and stress-free loading of the animals. It is, however, advisable to effect loading as near as possible to the planned departure of the conveyance.

Travel sicknessSimilar to humans jetting across the globe, travelling has an unsettling effect on animals and they must be disturbed as little as possible during a journey. The use of sedation methods to keep the animal calm is not one that is generally encouraged as it can increase the risk of injury or death. Tranquillisers should only be used when a specific problem exists and must always be administered by a veterinarian or other suitably qualified person. For this and other emergency health reasons it is always advisable, and in some cases will be compulsory, to have a veterinarian accompany a shipment of exotic animals. Other specialist staff may also be employed depending upon the species involved. The unique problems associated with moving an individual dolphin by air obviously differ from that of shipping a consignment of domesticated cattle by sea or a giraffe by road. There can be no substitute for having a sufficient number of suitably qualified and experienced staff at your disposal. The unpredictability of animals is a testament to this.The provision and implementation of a contingency plan is also good practice.As with most commodities, there is a certain amount of paperwork and official procedures that must be complied with when transporting animals. Licences may be required to move animals from one country to another, especially where endangered species are concerned. Unfortunately, many transits are prevented from going ahead due to the failure of the owners or shippers of the animals to adhere to these written protocols. Importing countries can reject shipments of animals if they have been re-routed through other countries, and in the past these problems have resulted in the deaths of delayed animals.All transits should have a designated and officially authorised route plan. However, things do not always go smoothly. Disease is no respecter of country borders. Indeed, if a country happens to contract a disease whilst a transit is in progress, it is possible that the protocol could be changed and the transit rejected.Most countries impose certain regulations and protocols on the transporters of livestock in order to meet minimum welfare standards, but these standards vary widely. As a result, leading industry organisations involved with the movement of animals including the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the Animal Transportation Association (AATA) have quite demanding rules and regulations that are usually embraced within the legal and contractual framework of not only the individual transportation companies, but also the countries from which they operate. Indeed, at a recent conference in Paris organised by the OIE (Office International des Epizooties), a worldwide organisation involved in the reporting of and dissemination of information on animal health and diseases, it was agreed that member countries would promote the harmonisation of regulations and standards relating to animal transportation. Members also agreed to encourage research into improving the methods and welfare issues surrounding the movement of animals.Inevitably, there will be losses during transit. Recent examples include a shipment of giraffes from Africa to Europe which were refused entry due an outbreak of foot and mouth disease. This meant the length of the journey was extended, resulting in the death of one of the giraffes.If death or injury does occur, strict procedures govern the reporting of these losses to insurers in order that claims are dealt with effectively and quickly. Again, the need to have the necessary paperwork available and in order is paramount. Insurers will usually require a statement from a veterinarian in attendance as to the time and cause of death. If possible, an autopsy should also be performed.The transportation of exotic animals worldwide is growing in importance as breeding programmes increase to help take endangered species off the critical list. However, global regulation is needed to deter unscrupulous operators and animal traders who persist in shipping animals purely for profit with no due consideration to the welfare issues involved. It is up to all parties involved with animal transportation to work together to ensure that further progress is maintained.Overall, experience is the key factor in underwriting this class of business.If underwriters are satisfied that the transportation team knows what to do in the majority of situations encountered during a journey, the premium will be cost effective, the overall account profitable and the client fully protected.