At the right time
Not many two-legged animals take to the skies these days – but some international jet-setting four-legged creatures, in contrast, stopped over at Qatar Airways hub in Doha recently. Kirsten de Bruijn talked to ITJ editor Andreas Haug about the measures necessary to transport lions from captivity to the semi-wild of a South African nature reserve – and other prospects for air cargo.
After eleven years with Air France KLM Martinair Cargo and Emirates SkyCargo you landed at Qatar Airways Cargo last September, Ms de Bruijn – just in time to accompany the latest project in the ‘WeQare’ initiative from the beginning. What exactly is it about?
Qatar Airways Cargo launched ‘WeQare’ a year ago. This scheme gives a framework to selected activities with a sustainable character. Chapter 1 covered humanitarian elements, which fits perfectly into the context of the outbreak of Covid-19.
The recent simultaneous departure of three of our cargo planes transporting relief material free of charge from Doha to Bengaluru, Mumbai and New Delhi was a particularly impressive sight in this context. We already sent a similar convoy to Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai in February 2020. [See ITJ Daily of 25 February 2020.]
Chapter 2 is all about animals. Animal welfare is close to the hearts of many people in Qatar. We were still thinking about what ‘Rewild the Planet’ actually means [see page 6 of ITJ 13-14 / 2021] when head of cargo Guillaume Halleux received an e-mail in October from Lionel De Lange, the founder and director of Warriors of Wildlife (WOW), an NGO working for the welfare of animals in Ukraine.
The concrete project that we tackled was to bring seven lions, previously kept by private owners, back into an environment that is more appropriate for the lives of these animals.
What did you need for this undertaking?
We sent a great and a great big team into action – more than 50 staff from more than a dozen departments. This was the only way we could successfully conclude the project in six months. We had to obtain regulatory approval in Ukraine and had to make operational adjustments three times to ensure that the connection from Kiev via Doha to Johannesburg worked seamlessly.
What role did your airline’s network play in this project?
First, we diverted one of our ‘passenger freighters’ from Western Europe to Kiev. The big cats and their keepers travelled on the lower deck for the five-and-a-half-hour first leg to Doha. There our staff ensured the smooth transfer to a regular passenger service operated with an Airbus A350, paying special attention to the customs of Ramadan. This didn’t include fasting for the cats, of course – each one was fed 30 kg of raw meat during the stopover.
To save time and stress for the animals, this aircraft was specially prepared for the onward flight at our cargo terminal. Special animals like snakes or rhinos transit through there all the time, but lions are something else again.
Is it possible to put a figure on the costs of such a project?
We don’t want to divulge any details that might give away information concerning our pricing policies. But by combining our flight equipment ideally we found the most economical way to complete the project. On the passenger freighter from Kiev to Doha the lions took up three ULD positions, on the A350 to Johannesburg it was eight. The whole team was exceptionally committed to the task and I really appreciated their dedicated cooperation.
What are your further plans?
The lions arrived safely outside Port Elizabeth after a twelve-hour truck ride and are now exploring their new freedom. At Qatar Airways Cargo we’re aware of our responsibility to the world, and are working with other NGOs to open the next action under our Chapter 2 soon.
How have you coped with the pandemic?
We’ve been very active; by mid-May we’d delivered more than 27 million doses of vaccine to 29 countries, as well as more than 9 million doses to 14 countries under the Covax initiative. Our operations have hardly slowed down. We consider ourselves lucky – 70% of the population of Qatar and 93% of our employees have already been vaccinated.
What’s your short-term outlook?
2021 will be a strong year for airfreight. E-commerce will keep up demand for mini-freighters. And we’re really looking forward to the opportunities that’ll arise in the context of ‘Qatar 2022’, football’s Fifa World Cup.