‘A travelling circus’ seems a fairly accurate description for an impending journey that a couple of large container trucks will make between New Delhi and Thiruvananthapuram.

Almost 3,000 km lie between the two cities. Goods carriers may be traversing even longer distances frequently, but there is something unusual about the contents of these vehicles.

The precious cargo will be carefully watched by Thiruvananthapuram zoo veterinarian Jacob Alexander, superintendent S. Sadashivan, zoo supervisors and a couple of zoo keeping staff.

After a lull in bulk animal exchange activities with other zoos in the country, the city zoo’s proposed exchange with the National Zoological Park in New Delhi is finally on the verge of materialising.

It is the same agreement involving the long-awaited transfer of a white tiger.

This VIP creature will be flown to the city, but the rest of his companions from the same zoo will have to make a cross-country trip.

A jaguar

The only other animal that gets to travel by air is a jaguar — the animal being given from the zoo here on a breeding loan. It will be transported to New Delhi inside the same crate that the white tiger will be brought in. As per the agreement between the two zoos, which was recently approved by the Central Zoo Authority (CZA), birds, including four red jungle fowl, a painted stork and five white ibis, besides a nilgai, a barking deer and a rare Albino blackbuck will be brought to the city. What’s causing concern among zoo officials is the transport of the animals. Given its size, transport of the nilgai is significantly tougher than the other cloven-hoofed species.

The other two are considered ‘highly excitable’ and any hiccup can lead to cardiac myopathy. Tenders are being invited for special crates which will have padding all along the sides and compartments through which water and food can be given and waste removed regularly.

This is not the first time that such a cross-country exchange of animals is being carried out.

Memories of a similar exchange in March, 1995, are still vivid in the mind of S. Abu, present superintendent of the Natural History Museum. He was the zoo curator then. Mr. Abu recalls the moments of sheer panic and frustration when the two trucks got separated along the desolate stretches of a highway in Maharashtra (there were no mobile phones then), the early summer heat that felt the most in Gujarat, and making long treks to some rivers to fetch more water. “At the time we were bringing three nilgai, two Sangai or brow-antlered deer (endemic to Manipur) and a cape buffalo,” he said.

Another worrying chapter was when one of the female nilgai refused to eat for the first two days of the journey.

“The doctor, C.J. Chandra, then made a solution with sugar and salt and poured it over the animal. It was bound to lick itself, ensuring ingestion of some nutrients. We then bought bundles of bananas which seemed to fix its appetite,” Mr. Abu recalled.

It took them 10 days. They had to stop every couple of hours to ensure that the animals were fine and rationed their stock of wheat bran, Bengal gram and green gram along the way.