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Relocating Penguins ~ Dubai's DKC Does All types of Animal Transport

Todd Carson with Dubai Eye

Malcolm: Business Breakfast, good morning. It is 21 past 7. Malcolm Taylor.

Andy: I'm Andy Scott.

Malcolm: Now, there was a mini uproar a couple of weeks ago about a bunch of penguins that were brought into Dubai for Ski Dubai. People were writing to the papers in outrage at the cruelty of the move, regardless of the fact that they weren't going to be having to fend for themselves out in the desert amongst the camels. They were actually going into a cold environment. Now we're pleased this morning on the Business Breakfast...

Andy: Where have you gone, Malcolm?

Malcolm: Sorry, I pulled the microphone out. There we go. We're pleased to welcome to the studio the Managing Partner of the company that transported the little fellas to Ski Dubai, Todd Carson of Dubai Kennels & Cattery. Good morning to you, Todd. Thanks for coming in.

Todd: Thanks for having me. Good morning.

Malcolm: Now, before we plunge into the penguin story...

Todd: You had to start with that subject, didn't you?

Malcolm: Before we start with that, let's hear a little bit more about your company because you're no stranger to exotic animal shipments, and you're certainly one of the best qualified companies around to handle it.

Todd: Thank you for putting it that way. The company has been in Dubai since 1983 and we've been in close cooperation with Emirates Airline, in fact, since really when they started up. And we're now their official animal handler and oversight provider for all what we call "AVI" or "live animals" that pass through Dubai International Airport. We're also, in fact, in the same role with DNATA. So that means that all airlines that are under that umbrella, providing care for DNATA for whatever they do. If they have animals passing through, we're also the supervising party that take care of that.

Malcolm: So if I ship a domestic animal to Japan, for instance, you would be handling that, would you?

Todd: Well, I need to make an important distinction because I don't want any of my competitors out there who are listening to get into an uproar. There are other people in the industry in this market that are also shipping or relocating animals, but what's happening is they're doing their own shipments. But when they are handed over to the airport, or when they arrive into the airport before they are cleared, there's a period of time there of potentially up to several hours, if there are problems up to much longer than that, where these animals are going to require care, oversight, and decisions may or may not need to be made. We're the people inside the airport in the secure areas that are actually handling those animals. Whether it's dogs, cats, birds, rabbits and then, of course, exotics. Regularly throughout the year we'll handle transiting animals for Emirates that include lions and tigers.

Andy: Todd, are you also the people who look out for the various animals that come through illegally? The cheetahs? I hear a couple of bears came through last year.

Todd: We're actually responsible personally for breaking all of the laws of the country in shipping them in. No, I'm joking.

Malcolm: No, I'm glad you said that.

Todd: Obviously I'm joking. When you say that we're "responsible", I'm not sure...

Andy: I mean, responsible for trying to... We do hear quite regularly that...

Todd: The truth is that there really is a problem with the illegal import and export of animals. And not only exotics, but also, in fact, domestic pets. There are requirements at all levels for all of these animals, and some of them are incredibly strict. You could argue well-founded or not, but, in fact, there are a lot of movements of animals into this country that should not be moving. We, of course, I swear to you, have absolutely nothing to do with any of that.

Malcolm: Most of the time you're dealing with CITES approved stuff?

Todd: No, well it's not only CITES. It's actually the right question because it seems like it would be about CITES. But, in fact...

Andy: Sorry, what is CITES?

Malcolm: CITES is the treaty for endangered species, isn't it?

Todd: Yeah, it's the Convention on the Trade of Endangered Species, Wild Fauna and Flora. It controls really over 30,000 species: wild animals, exotics, right down to more common types of animals and herbs and plants and so on.

Malcolm: Now, tell us about the penguins. Who wanted them moved from where to where?

Todd: Okay. Well, first of all, just so, again, not to take more credit than we should, we were involved in one part of the shipment, which is the import side, because every relocation of everything, in fact, including animals, has the export and the import side.

Malcolm: Yes, I wasn't suggesting you chased them down in the Antarctic.

Todd: No, we didn't do that. That's true. But we might have actually been responsible for the other end of it. Now, they came from Sea World in San Diego, in fact. They traveled by road over a 30 hour period in special trucks and special containers until they got to JFK in New York. Then at JFK, they were loaded onto Emirates Airline craft and they were flown in. And then we took over for the clearance portion of the thing in cooperation...

Andy: I thought penguins couldn't fly.

Malcolm: I can hear the cruelty guys.

Todd: You know, there were a lot of jokes that day about the same thing. Not even close to original.

Malcolm: I actually can hear the cruelty guys sort of saying, "Well, why would you truck them right across the States? Surely you could just drive them up to San Francisco. You've got direct flights to Dubai."

Todd: Well, to be honest, when we first came to know about it, we had the same reaction. Why are you trucking them? In fact, Sea World, who move animals really around the world all the time, I think it's fair to de facto accept that they're experts in what they do.

Malcolm: They put it to a vote amongst the penguins.

Todd: Yeah, exactly. But they've come to learn that it's less disruptive for the penguins to be traveling by road because they get to create a more stable environment for them. They don't have to experience liftoff and landing and all of the noises and the ruckus associated with that.

Malcolm: But surely the overall experience would've been much easier than driving across the States.

Todd: Easier for us but not for the penguins.

Malcolm: I mean, you're still going to fly them.

Todd: Yes, you do. But imagine now that you're flying from San Diego and you've got to come to Dubai. At the time that we did it, I don't think that there were direct flights; certainly not the freighter flight that we required.

Malcolm: Oh okay.

Todd: So we're talking about instead of two take-offs and landings, we're talking about one take-off and landing. You have a stable environment that you can create for the penguins during their road-trip across the U.S. Everybody felt that it was fine, and I have to tell you when they arrived they were in very, very good condition. Absolutely alert and fine and they settled in beautifully into the Mall of the Emirates.

Malcolm: One thing I discovered actually doing the research for this interview... there's no generally accepted collective noun for penguins.

Todd: Uh.

Malcolm: A large - what do you call it?

Todd: Malcolm, I think you might be the only one who's actually looked into that.

Malcolm: What does that say about me?

Andy: I suggested a "packet" of penguins.

Malcolm: They are commonly referred to as a "colony" of penguins, and the place where they breed is variously known as a "rookery" or a "penguinery", which I love. A "penguinery". Fantastic! When they're on water, they're a raft.

Todd: We call it the penguinarium at the Emirates. Anyways, with all of that insight, I'll offer you a job, Malcolm, whenever you're ready.

Malcolm: It's also sometimes called a "parcel" of penguins. I suppose that's if they don't arrive in good condition. Let's move on to your business.

Andy: It should be a "flight" of penguins.

Malcolm: We are talking to the Dubai Kennels & Cattery, or DKC, and you've got three strings to you. We've talked about the airport part of it and you got the animal relocation. You've also got animal boarding and animal training. Which makes the most money? Which is your focus?

Todd: Well, actually there is no focus with respect with what we drive forward, what we focus on, what we try to promote and develop. But the highest revenue part of the business is definitely the relocations part of the business. It represents probably about 70% or 80% of our total revenue. So it's a higher yield part of the job. Margins in boarding are much lower.

Andy: It's an expensive business, isn't it, when your shipping your domestic animals around the world?

Todd: Well, it's very expensive. In fact, most people liken shipping, for example, a pet to... it ends up becoming something like the cost of a first-class human ticket.

Malcolm: It used to be. I've shipped quite a lot of animals around the world, including from Korea to London to Seoul to [inaudible 00:08:12], and I always remember it being 1% of a single first-class fare per kilo. That was how you worked it out. So if you had a five kilo cat, it would be effectively be 5% of a single first-class fare.

Todd: It does depend on where you're going and where you're coming from and whether or not you can ship as manifest cargo or accompanied baggage. If you ship as accompanied baggage, the charge from the airline is based on the weight of the animal in the crate, and that is lower almost always than doing it by volume metric, which is how it goes through when you're doing it by cargo. And the IATA rates on a cargo shipment, I think, are like 150% of normal cargo. So it becomes very expensive if you're going to be doing it by cargo. But the trouble is is that most countries around the world now, and increasingly so, will only accept an import on any animal through manifest cargo.

Malcolm: I'm glad you're talking about acceptance because who regulates the industry, defines what's best practice, and issues standard operating guidelines for the handling of animals in the UAE?

Todd: On the governmental side, every country will have their own regulations, and we can talk about any of a number of countries and what the regulations are for that; although, frankly, I'm just the idiot boss - I wouldn't know all the minutiae detail, my staff would. But in terms of who actually regulates shippers themselves, people who are handling live animals, there is no regulatory body. It means that you have an industry that can be representing itself in one area of the world or another by people who are doing an exceptional job and by people who are appearing to be doing an exceptional job. And there's actually an enormous amount that goes into relocating animals properly, and I think that a lot of people aren't entirely aware of how much goes into that and what it takes, and how easily it can go wrong.

Andy: Todd, you're called Dubai Kennels & Cattery, which suggests dogs and cats.

Todd: Yeah, it does.

Andy: Tell me, what's the most exotic pet you've moved in or moved out?

Todd: Well, we had the penguins not long ago for the Mall of the Emirates, and some months ago we relocated to Spain a cheetah on behalf of one of the sheikhs. We regularly deal with lions and reptiles and gazelles and wallabies and so on that are transiting through the airport on Emirates Airline. And DNATA occasionally has the occasional unexpected animal that arrives as well, so we deal with that, you know. But we also have in our boarding side of the business a lot of animals that are not just dogs and cats. One of our marketing problems is that the company's name is Dubai Kennels & Cattery, and we could have a long discussion about our plans and issues there. We generally board pretty much any animal. Everything from difficult-to-handle dogs and cats, or even dangerous ones that other facilities will not accept because we're trained and ready to do that. But we also regularly take in reptiles, birds of all kinds, rodents of all kinds, and we handle, really, the full gamut.

Malcolm: Todd Carson, Managing Partner of Dubai Kennels & Cattery. Thank you very much for your time.

Todd: You're welcome, thanks.

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