Easy does it! Two manatees take a trip to Duisburg Zoo

Sabine Barde -
Forklift Diaries
- 26 Oct 2023 ( #1151 )
6 min read
The manatees journeyed over 600 km from Odense Zoo in Denmark to Zoo Duisburg in Germany.
Copyright Zoo Duisburg / A. Dörendahl
The manatees journeyed over 600 km from Odense Zoo in Denmark to Zoo Duisburg in Germany. Copyright Zoo Duisburg / A. Dörendahl

When manatees Manfred and Pablo travelled from Odense Zoo in Denmark to Zoo Duisburg in Germany, their journey had to be carefully planned many months in advance. With the help of the folks at Clark Europe, the two heavyweight residents were transported with extra care to their new home. Read on for a blow-by-blow of their adventures as Clark’s head of corporate communications Sabine Barde fills us in on all the details of the adventure as it happened. 


THE CHALLENGE 
Weeks before the transport date

We received a unique enquiry from Duisburg Zoo staff. They wanted to hire a forklift that could handle the careful loading of two manatees, also known as sea cows, in special transport boxes out of a specialised transport truck. 

 "We needed a forklift that could lift at least four tonnes of load, because we didn't know in advance exactly how heavy the transport box, including water and manatee, would be," explains Christian Schreiner, press spokesman for Duisburg Zoo. 

Christopher Grefer, an employee of the technical department at Duisburg Zoo says: "Since we had to unload the 3.6 m long steel-framed wooden boxes lengthwise from the back of the truck, extra-long forks were also needed.”

As an extra challenge the Clark team was told the load will involve living creatures that could change position during transport. With a moving load, there is a risk that the centre of gravity of the truck will move. In the worst case, it could even tip over. 

So on the one hand, the forklift would need as high a residual load capacity and stability as possible so that the boxes, which would be additionally secured with tension belts could be transported carefully. But on the other hand, very sensitive load handling was going to be required in order to carry out the transport as gently as possible.

THE OPERATION
Manfred and Pablo’s excellent adventure

The manatees started their journey to the Ruhr area 669 km away in two heated trucks. 

A company specialised in transporting large animals brought not only the vehicles but also the manatees' travel accommodation, two special boxes with an empty weight of over 900 kg, which were filled with water during the transport. 

The loading of the animals in Odense and the transport to the Ruhr area was accompanied by zoo veterinarian Dr. Kerstin Ternes, who checked on the animals at regular intervals and measured the water temperature, among other things.

At 10 pm on the day of the operation, as darkness set in, more than 20 zoo employees were ready to receive the new arrivals and accompany them to the Rio Negro tropical hall.

 

The electric forklift was equipped with extra-long forks to load the transport boxes, each around 3.60 m long, with the manatees from the heated truck. 
Copyright Zoo Duisburg / A. Dörendahl
The electric forklift was equipped with extra-long forks to load the transport boxes, each around 3.60 m long, with the manatees from the heated truck. Copyright Zoo Duisburg / A. Dörendahl
The forklift had to unload the box from the  truck, set it down on the ground, then pick them up again crosswise on the forks to lift them onto the heavy-duty rolling board that stood on the special gallery. Copyright Zoo Duisburg / A. Dörendahl
The forklift had to unload the box from the truck, set it down on the ground, then pick them up again crosswise on the forks to lift them onto the heavy-duty rolling board that stood on the special gallery. Copyright Zoo Duisburg / A. Dörendahl
The forklift sets the transport box with the manatee down very gently on the roller board. 
Copyright Zoo Duisburg / A. Dörendahl
The forklift sets the transport box with the manatee down very gently on the roller board. Copyright Zoo Duisburg / A. Dörendahl

 

The forklift would need to lift the special boxes safely one by one onto a specially made heavy-duty roller board which would be on top of a gallery that had been built especially for the arrival of the manatees. 

In order to do this the boxes first had to be unloaded from the truck, set down on the ground and then picked up again crosswise on the forks. 

To combat the dark the truck had been equipped with blue lights at the front and rear in addition to working lights, rear combination lights with brake lights and reversing lights. Thankfully everything went smoothly!

Throughout the handling each individual work step took place as if in slow motion. 

Christopher Grefer from Duisburg Zoo drives the forklift truck. Here he is being briefed on unloading the manatees' travel accommodation, the box from the  specialised transport truck. 
Copyright Zoo Duisburg / A. Dörendahl
Christopher Grefer from Duisburg Zoo drives the forklift truck. Here he is being briefed on unloading the manatees' travel accommodation, the box from the specialised transport truck. Copyright Zoo Duisburg / A. Dörendahl

"We made sure that every movement was slow and fluid. Vibrations were to be avoided at all costs," says Christopher Grefer. "The forklift could be operated very sensitively using the mini-levers, so that I could pick up the box very carefully and set it down on the roller board on the gallery.”

Box after box is placed securely on the rolling board where it then takes 10 keepers to push one of the water-filled crates together with the manatee to the edge of the water area of the tropical hall. 

The keepers then place a so-called stretcher underneath the manatee - a kind of hammock. Then, with the support of a slewing crane, the animal is lifted out of the box and safely into its new home. 

 

A team of animal keepers carefully pushed the transport box with the manatee over the rolling board into the "Rio Negro" tropical hall. 
Copyright Zoo Duisburg / A. Dörendahl
A team of animal keepers carefully pushed the transport box with the manatee over the rolling board into the "Rio Negro" tropical hall. Copyright Zoo Duisburg / A. Dörendahl
The animal keepers placed a so-called "stretcher" underneath the manatee. 
Copyright Zoo Duisburg / A. Dörendahl
The animal keepers placed a so-called "stretcher" underneath the manatee. Copyright Zoo Duisburg / A. Dörendahl

 

...and then the manatee was lifted out of the transport box with the support of a slewing crane and carefully lowered into its new home. 
Copyright Zoo Duisburg / A. Dörendahl
...and then the manatee was lifted out of the transport box with the support of a slewing crane and carefully lowered into its new home. Copyright Zoo Duisburg / A. Dörendahl

 

Sandra Dollhäupl, curator at Duisburg Zoo, was in charge of the transport and planned the manatees arrival for weeks. The biologist was in constant contact with the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) in Nuremberg and even visited the animals on site in Odense. 

For the arrival in Duisburg, the zoo had put together teams to ensure that every single step went smoothly.

"There was the forklift team, whose only task was to make sure that the transport of the box by forklift was as gentle as possible," says Christian Schreiner. 

"For example, one of the forklift team's only task was to instruct Christopher Grefer on unloading the transport boxes from the truck and unloading them on the roller bed. 

“The box team, which consisted of animal keepers, had the task of collectively pushing the boxes over the roller bed into the tropical hall. 

“The crane team, which was responsible for the crane loading, was already waiting there. All teams had been trained several times beforehand for their respective tasks so that when the time came, the manatees would arrive safely at their new home.”

As this logistical challenge was a first for Duisburg Zoo everyone involved felt very relieved when the manatees were able to set eyes on their new sanctuary safe and sound. 

And as for Manfred and Pablo? They of course survived the journey from Denmark over 600 km away healthy and in good spirits and we are pleased to report that the two manatees have accepted their new habitat well. 

 

The two manatees have arrived safely and have accepted their new habitat well. 
Copyright Zoo Duisburg / A. Dörendahl
The two manatees have arrived safely and have accepted their new habitat well. Copyright Zoo Duisburg / A. Dörendahl

About Manatees

Among the animals still living today, elephants are the closest relative to manatees and dugongs. After whales and seals, manatees are the third larger taxon of sea-dwelling mammals (marine mammals). Unlike seals, they do not have limbs to move on land. Unlike whales, manatees always stay near the coast or even in fresh water and often in very shallow water. Manatees reach a body length of 2.5 to four metres and a weight of 200 to 900 kg. Their habitat is the trophic waters of Africa, Asia, America and Australia. Manatees are leisurely swimmers that move very slowly under water. About every five minutes, the mammals come to the water surface to catch their breath. Since the animals mostly stay in shallow water areas, motorboats in particular are a great danger for the animals. Accidents due to collisions and injuries from boat propellers are not uncommon. The increasing pollution of their habitats as well as hunting are also increasingly affecting the charismatic heavyweights. According to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), manatees are considered an endangered species and are listed on the so-called Red List. To protect their habitat, Duisburg Zoo has been supporting the Yaqu Pacha e.V. organisation for years, which works on the ground in South America for manatees and other aquatic species.

 

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