Most people would be shocked to hear that every year, about 1.6 billion animals are transported alive across the European Union and beyond its borders for commercial activities.
According to Eurostat, most animal species transported are poultry, cattle, pigs, sheep and goats, which are transported from one farm to another for breeding or fattening, and to slaughterhouses for slaughter. But another significant part of live animal transport includes the trade in cats and dogs and exotic wild animals commercialised as pets.
While the EU Regulation on the protection of animals during transport (EC No 1/2005) lays out several requirements and measures to be applied on the commercial transport of live vertebrate animals, there are no species-specific rules for the vast range of animal species that fall under the scope of this regulation.
In fact, the term ‘wild animal’ occurs only 3 times in the entire legislation. This is a stark contrast to the significantly more detailed guidelines for farmed and companion species. Wild and companion animals and are not defined under Article 2. This can cause mishandling of species and protection gaps for example; exotic species being bred in captivity. The regulation also only applies to animals with a connection to an economic activity (Article 1).
Why is this a problem?
It might seem obvious enough, but lizards and rabbits have very different needs. Yet, under the current legislation, minimum welfare requirements look the same for both species.
While the Regulation clearly states that its scope extends to all live vertebrate animals whose transport is part of an economic activity, it completely disregards the different needs of each species.
Not only have numerous investigations and studies shown that the current legislation (which was last updated almost 20 years ago) fails to effectively protect so-called ‘farm animals’, but we also see the death of captive wild animals while on transit on a daily basis.
The transportation of wild animals also creates some of the highest risks for pathogen transmission. A recent report by AAP found:
- 1 in 7 exotic pets rescued by AAP carried at least one zoonotic pathogen
- 13 of 36 infected exotic pets carried more than one zoonotic pathogen
It is essential that these animals receive species-appropriate care. The European Commission and EU Member States should, at a minimum, ensure all legislation and requirements for wild animals are in compliance with the guidelines set forth by CITES and WOAH. While these guides are not legally binding, the Commission should undertake the effort to implement to ensure proper welfare.
Contingency plans should also be required by relevant agencies including but not limited to:
- If an animal escapes
- If animals die during transport
- Solutions for holding and new transport if existing methods are no longer suitable
- Ensure all necessary actions required to safeguard welfare to reduce risk of fear, injury, damage to health and suffering are taken in case of a delay
Furthermore, experts should be utilized to determine whether a species requires unique care during transport and if those handling the animal have the necessary expertise to reduce risk. For example, under the CITES guidelines specific suggested requirements are provided for species where the IATA Live Animals Regulations (LAR) may not be sufficient. Such animals that have additional requirements include big cats, bears, elephants, kangaroos, pigs, sheep, wild horses, flamingos, penguins and more.
In addition to ensuring proper requirements are in the regulations, we must also ensure they are being implemented. Animal experts and veterinarians should be given the authority to conduct random inspections of animals being transported as necessary. The longer a species must be transported the greater the risks.
If the EU wants to ensure high animal welfare, it must recognise that not all species have the same needs.