SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Komati the black rhino and Solstice the giraffe are in their new homes hundreds of miles from the Great Plains Zoo in Sioux Falls.
But how do you transport a rhino who could potentially weigh 1,800 to 3,100 pounds? Or a female giraffe that can be up to 14 to 16-feet tall and weigh up to 2,000 pounds?
“Many animals are driven to their destination,” said the zoo’s executive director Becky Dewitz. Dewitz responded in an email to multiple questions about the departure of the two animals.
Komati was transported to a new home in Florida and Solstice was transported to her new home in Oklahoma.
Transport can happen with zoo staff or professional animal transporters can be used, Dewitz said. “For example, a giraffe transport requires a specialized trailer designed to safely transport giraffes. There are only a few companies that provide this service which can also extend the preparation process.”
Research and reports on transports of giraffes say the crate needs to be large enough to accommodate the giraffe’s height but also built to allow for the giraffe to lower its head. The giraffe doesn’t always stand with its head fully up.
Transport crates for rhinos are also designed for the height and weight of the animal.
“Whether we are moving an animal to our zoo or to another zoo, our registrar obtains a list of physical exam requirements, vaccinations, health certificates and permitting needs,” Dewitz said.
The animals can’t be simply loaded into a transport crate on the day of the move because they need to be prepared for the move.
“Depending on the species, this process can generally take a few months or years,” Dewitz said.
Preparation involves training and trust.
“Many of our animals can be trained to voluntarily participate to walk in or out of a transport crate. The behavior training process can take months to develop and occurs with operant or positive reinforcement to reward an animal helping to teach and solidify a new behavior,” Dewitz said.
“For example, our Africa animal care team worked for months to train our black rhino, Komati, to calmly walk in and out of a transport crate. Behavioral training requires a high level of trust between the trainer and animal, and it helps reduce stress on the animal,” Dewitz said.
Zoo officials also need to consider the amount of time the animals will be on the road.
“It is best to minimize the travel time for the wellness of the animal,” Dewitz said.
Dewitz said officials can reduce travel time by assigning multiple drivers on transport.
The weather must also be considered when transporting the large animals.
“As an additional safety measure, communication with other zoos along the determined route is a good practice to have aid available should a weather emergency arise,” Dewitz said.
Great Plains Zoo is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) which is helpful in the transport of animals, she said.
The animals were moved to new homes as part of the effort to ensure responsible population management for animals, Dewitz said. The AZA affiliation is key to why the animals may be transported to other zoos.
“As part of our AZA accreditation and membership, we work together as a community to conserve the species and ensure their genetic diversity for the animal’s health and well-being,” Dewitz said.
The zoo has been accredited by the AZA since 1991. It’s been a part of the preservation program for decades, Dewitz said.
Great Plains works “with other AZA-accredited zoos on managed breeding programs called Species Survival Plans (SSP), which ensures genetic diversity of the animals in our care helping to save and preserve endangered species. Through careful consideration of genetics, age and temperament, animals are matched together for breeding,” Dewitz said.
Rhinos and giraffes have been the largest animals that have moved out or moved into the zoo in Sioux Falls.
While there was a recent move-out, the zoo is already working on a planned move-in of an African lion pride, Dewitz said. That should happen next spring.