Modern zoos don’t work in isolation - there’s a network of over 600 zoos worldwide that act like a giant Noah’s Ark for many species. To make sure the animals in world zoos are genetically healthy, it sometimes involves moving animals between them.
But it’s not just pot luck as to which animal moves to another zoo within Australia or goes on an international journey. An international database with the histories of more than two million animals helps determine this. Before Taronga considers moving an animal, all the potential breeding matches are analysed to predict the genetic diversity of future offspring. In some respects it’s like a giant computer match-making system for animals being cared for by zoos around the globe.
When Taronga sends an animal to another zoo, we try and pick the most direct travelling route to minimise the amount of time the animal is in transit and where possible a keeper accompanies the animal on the journey to care for them and help make the transition easier. We also try and choose transport times when the weather conditions are favourable or similar at both zoos so the animal doesn’t get a shock going from a Sydney summer to a frosty winter, for instance.
The planning for any animal transfer is immense, but one thing we can’t eliminate is Mother Nature. When Karaka the female Giraffe left Taronga Western Plains for an ocean voyage to New Zealand, to join a breeding program, her trip was planned to coincide with typically smooth seas. Unfortunately, Karaka gave another young female, Jessica Watson a run for her money in terms of ocean crossings, but unlike Jessica, she had the full time care of keeper, Roger and Dr. Alissa Wallace.
Despite the unfavourable conditions, Karaka arrived safe and sound, (although our staff and cameraman were a little worse for wear) and since arriving in NZ is enjoying teasing the ostriches, getting to know a male giraffe ‘Zabulu’, and has seen one of the older females give birth. This all adds to her life experience which will be invaluable, particularly as she matures and becomes of breeding age herself.