Wind your neck in? How flight crews rose to the challenge of taking dozens of giraffes from South Africa to China

Airport that specialises in exotic wildlife welcomes shipment from Johannesburg

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 October, 2017, 2:05pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 October, 2017, 3:48pm

It was a tall order. Xinzheng International Airport in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province, specialises in transporting imported exotic animals to various destinations.

But the alpacas, sheep and pandas it has previously flown under its “Animal Airway” service were a relatively diminutive challenge compared with its latest task: receiving 66 young giraffes that had travelled 11,250km from South Africa.

So air officials crafted a plan that would ensure their long-necked cargo from the African savannah would be loaded and delivered safely to new homes in zoos in Beijing and across China.

It was particularly important to make certain the animals would be able to adjust quickly to their new environment, an airport official was quoted as saying by China News Agency on Tuesday.

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One thing the airport team had going for them was that the young giraffes had not yet reached their full height. At two metres tall, the creatures were easier to transport than adult giraffes that can grow to up to six metres – making them the world’s tallest land animals.

Giraffes – like other large mammals – typically are shipped in custom-built containers or crates by sea, land or air.

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So on Saturday the giraffes stepped into made-to-order containers and boarded a cargo plane in Johannesburg.

They were being sent under an arrangement with the South African authorities on a flight charted from Air Moldova, the former Soviet republic’s national carrier.

More than 20 hours later, the giraffes left the aircraft at Xinzheng and were moved to their temporary homes where they will spend 45 days in quarantine – a requirement under Chinese law – before taking up residency at zoos around the country.