How to Put a Panda in the Mail


Whether it’s delivering polar bears to zoos or prize horses to the World Equestrian Games, FedEx rules the animal-shipping kingdom. David Lange, director of charter operations, reveals how they do it.

Since 2000, FedEx has shipped 12 pandas to zoos. How much did it cost?
It varies. We sell the entire airplane. Whether you want to move one ton or 80 pounds, you buy the entire airplane. Shipping an animal is different from shipping a box. Trying to translate a cost per pound for an endangered species, it’s hard to make a comparison.

What kinds of supplies do the pandas need?
We usually carry a breeding pair, so two enclosures with bamboo, water, apples—a couple thousand pounds of supplies. When we’re carrying horses we bring water and hay. One time, we carried 10 or 15 tons of tack and hay and feed.

You ship hundreds of horses every year. What kind of plans have to be made before a flight?
When you’re moving 45 horses on a flight with 25 grooms, it takes special handling. There are the enclosures, the supplies, the food and water. Attendants and vets must be on the flight. Background checks and visas and passports. There are customs and immigration requirements for not only the grooms and vets, but also the animals.

The animals need passports?
Absolutely. When moving horses—some of these horses are worth millions of dollars— they go in and out without having to pay duties and taxes. There’s a lot of paperwork, blood testing, certification, and quarantine at the destination.

How do you keep them comfortable?
Temperature control. When you’re moving a lot of horses, that generates humidity. We often fly in the middle of the night, when it’s cooler. With an aquarium, you’ve got an animal in water, so we have to consider takeoff and landing profiles. We can’t take off too quickly.

Who cleans up after the animals?
Professional cleaners take care of that. You’d be surprised the rules different countries have. I’ve seen some amazing stuff. The amount of disinfectant ... we flew our horse charter into Shanghai last year. They sprayed down the entire airplane, the crew steps, everything. That’s part of the quarantine.

Are some animals too large?
Sometimes we can’t help the customer because the animal won’t fit. But when we’ve committed to carry, we’ll find the right-sized aircraft. If we were just moving a whale or two, an Airbus might suffice. Moving 50 or 60 horses with 20 grooms and attendants, we’ll need a bigger airplane.

Any escape stories?
No. I can safely say we’ve never had any escapees.