Magazine for ports, shipping and logistics

Feed logistics and flying polar bears

A real balancing act – Bremerhaven Zoo’s unique location directly on the dyke means that it is not only the polar bears that have to be craned into the enclosure.

Zoos have developed sophisticated logistical processes to ensure their animals are supplied with the best possible food every day. This also applies to inter-zoo animal transportation as part of breeding programmes – as a look at Hanover and Bremerhaven shows.


Bremerhaven Zoo is the smallest scientifically managed zoo in Europe. Over an area of 11,800m², it showcases around 115 different animal species, specialising in aquatic and Nordic species. The range of feed required is correspondingly wide, and Bremerhaven Zoo strives to source as much feed as possible locally. “Most of our fruit and vegetables come from the local wholesale market, and we get our meat from the abattoir in Bremerhaven,” says Dr Heike Kück, Manager and CEO of Bremerhaven Zoo. “This is where we procure fatty beef for the polar bears and lean beef for the pumas, for example, and the oysters for the octopus come from a fishmonger in Bremerhaven.” In addition, live small crayfish for the seahorses are delivered twice a week by overnight courier from Büsum, while the fish for the seals, polar bears and penguins is brought by freezer truck bodies from Valkenburg in the Netherlands. Once on zoo premises, the different types of food are then stored temporarily in separate freezers and cold rooms, each with the corresponding temperature settings.



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Lorries play a significant role in transporting both animal feed and delivering trees for the chimpanzee enclosure at Bremerhaven Zoo.

“I always feel queasy when …”

At Bremerhaven Zoo, transporting the animals to their enclosures is much more complicated than delivering the food. “We’re in the unique situation that we’re located directly in front of the dyke, with a flood protection barrierthat runs around the zoo. Plus, the walkways inside the zoo are relatively narrow,” Kück explains. This means lorry access to the zoo and, in turn, direct access to the enclosures is impossible. Instead, not just polar bears, but also equipment for the enclosures – such as trees, rocks and wooden bedding – have to be lifted in by crane. Kück is completely relaxed while materials are being craned in, but her pulse starts racing when live animals in boxes are dangling from the hook. “I always feel queasy when there’s a polar bear flying over my head. Every time, without fail, I can’t help but think ‘let the chains hold, let the chains hold’ …”

A wide variety of transportation methods are used to transport animals. Smaller animals such as seals, pumas or marmosets are transported by zoo staff themselves using the facility’s own transporter. Larger animals like polar bears, however, require the use of external animal transport companies. “Regardless of the size of the animal, however, only special transport crates that comply with the applicable IATA standards are used,” she emphasises. She and a vet examine the animals thoroughly before they check and sign the accompanying documents. Any other written formalities then depend on the valuable cargo’s destination. “Within the EU, several documents are required – from proof of origin and that the animals are being kept legally, to what’s known as the ZIMS document, to traces papers declaring that the animals are healthy and can’t spread any diseases, to a certificate for the duration of the animal transport and a pro-forma invoice for customs. For animals transported outside the EU, a CITES export permit from the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation in Bonn and a CITES import certificate in the recipient country are also required,” she explains.

Transportation by ferry

Bremerhaven Zoo did not give away any animals last year, but they did adopt a fur seal from Denmark, brought by lorry, and a puma from the Ströhen Zoo in Lower Saxony, transported using the zoo’s own van. According to Kück, this was plain sailing compared to some of the polar bear transports experienced in previous years. In 2012, for example, a polar bear named Valeska was transported from southern Lapland to the Elbe-Weser triangle by ferry. “Transporting the two polar bears, Olinka and Lloyd, from Vienna to Bremerhaven by lorry in 2002 was similarly exciting,” she recalls. “The driver told me that the two animals had clearly moved the vehicle. At petrol stations, passers-by would surely have wondered why the vehicle was wobbling and making weird noises.” The reason for this is that animals may only be transported while awake and a typical movement polar bears make is to jump up and down with their front paws. This is what Olinka was doing inside her crate.

As the size of the animals increases, so do the demands on transport logistics. Safety and the welfare of the animals are always in the foreground.

Hanover Adventure Zoo – feeding almost 2,000 animals is no small feat

Just the name, Hanover Adventure Zoo, says it all – in just one day, visitors can marvel at around 2,000 animals from across the globe, from almost 200 species. The logistical effort that goes into providing all the animals – from the agate snail to Kirk’s dikdik – with the right food is correspondingly great. In 2020, for example, 2,400 crates of fruit, 20 tonnes of meat, 28 tonnes of both salt and freshwater fish and almost 20,000 eggs were brought to Hanover. This was alongside the 8,558 crates of vegetables, 170 tonnes of hay, 116 tonnes of straw and 39 tonnes of carrots, to name just a few examples.

“As sustainability is one of our core values, we try to source as much food as possible from local suppliers,” explains Klaus Brunsing, Zoological Director of Hanover Adventure Zoo. With hay and straw, and fruit and vegetables, this works especially well. In addition, the zoo procures its dried food from all over Germany and sea fish from Dutch fishmongers. “With the exception of some exotic fruits, our alfalfa hay, delivered in container swap bodies from Spain or southern France, comes from the furthest away,” he says. Perishable goods, such as meat and fish, are also mainly transported to Hanover by lorry, in refrigerated or freezer containers. The zoo stores the food in its main warehouse, equipped with special refrigeration facilities, among other things, until it is time to feed it to the animals. “To keep the food fresh, the cold chain must not be interrupted,” Brunsing emphasises, before pointing out that the zoo has been working with the majority of its feed suppliers for many years. “Trust and reliability play an essential role in logistics,” he adds.

The bigger the animal, the harder the task

It is not just feed that requires transportation – animal logistics are also part of everyday life of zoos, as they regularly exchange animals with each other as part of breeding programmes, with the aim of maintaining genetically healthy populations and preserving biodiversity. “Previously, carrying out these transports primarily in spring or autumn has proven successful. This is because the higher summer temperatures can put a strain on the animals’ circulation, while in winter, icy roads can be dangerous for animal transportation,” he explains. In the run-up to every journey – whether by road or by air – there is a wealth of details that has to be meticulously checked, including veterinary issues and selecting the right means of transport and the appropriate transport crate. The rule of thumb is often that the larger the species to be transported and the longer the transport route, the greater the challenge.

“In 2018, we gave three orang-utans to zoos in America. The process took just under two years, from planning to transportation by air,” Brunsing tells us, however such large time frames tend to be the exception rather than the rule. In 2021, for example, it only took a few weeks to transport some red-necked wallabies to Bad Pyrmont and a wombat to Prague. There are special requirements for each animal species regarding transport crates and vehicles – yet the central criteria remain the safe transportation and welfare of the animal. “With giraffes, for example, it is important that they can stand upright during transit. For animals up to five metres tall, you need a correspondingly tall transport trailer,” he adds. Brunsing and his team are currently planning to bring a lioness to Hanover and to give seven spectacled penguins to a zoo in the Netherlands in 2022.

More Information

It’s not just the prairie dogs at Hanover Zoo that have a huge appetite! Approx. 2,000 animals spanning 200 different species have to be given the right kind of food each day.

The times have changed. An information board within the zoo provides visitors with all they need to know about the species protection programme and the inter-zoo animal exchange.

Successful species conservation

Staff at Hanover Adventure Zoo are particularly proud of their species conservation projects as part of the EAZA Exsitu Programme (EEP). Among their work was the reintroduction of Addax antelopes bred in zoos in North Africa. “More than 50 animal species are – or were – already extinct in the wild, but have survived in captivity thanks to the commitment of the international zoo community,” explains Brunsing, underlining the importance of species conservation projects and the logistics associated with them. (bre)