Rat Health Care & Information

Exporting Rats

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Exporting via air is not for the faint hearted! It does involve a fair amount of stress but something I’ve learned from having pretty well done the whole export process from start to finish, is that the most important thing is planning.
There is a very large need to make a plan and stick to that plan – seems weird saying that related to rats in some ways, as my other hobby is scuba diving and we always say ‘plan your dive, dive your plan’ as being the safest way to dive!               

I’ve had a fair amount of experience of exporting to Europe via ferry and in comparison; it is painless and cheap compared to flying rats to further destinations like the USA, but then you might remember an article I wrote on the stresses of my first experiences of exporting and importing from Europe a few years back… Note that while this article is primarily about exporting to the USA, all of the below needs to be considered for any country that is outside of sensible driving distance/ferry crossing, so that does mean most of Europe and all other continents.

The first thing to understand is that the basic cost for shipping to the USA as of November 2004 based on British Airways is going to be approximately £200 for basic export cost, plus £100 per crate, plus the cost of buying the actual crates, plus vet check costs, plus the actual cost of the rats. With the exchange rate currently at approx $1.8/£1, it makes it very expensive at the American end.

I think one of the most important things to for the foreign importer to do well in advance, is build communication with the breeders in the UK they plan to export from. Get a good idea of the rats, the varieties and the breeding ethics and ideas the breeder has on working with their lines and be prepared to work with them, even if they are an ocean away! Being realistic, it is most likely to either be New Varieties wishing to be exported or in the case of established varieties, will either be to test their own lines for matches in genes or to improve on their lines.

Realistically because we’re looking at not being able to check out new owners and homes in the way many breeders like to over here, the export needs to be a ‘club to club’ export, with the backing of societies in both countries. It may be that an export company is used or individuals handle the export on behalf of the club; like I chose to in the case of the recent one as I wanted to ‘experience’ and understand the process after the other USA export earlier this year didn’t go quite to plan.

From experience, the ideal is to start planning actual timescales at least 6 months before the actual export and get your ‘shopping list’ sorted. I know it sounds like an awful term for rats, but if you’ve got a list of ideals and you manage to get about two-thirds of that list bred and timed to perfection, you’ll be doing well!

Start making lists and planning timescales – one thing we discussed after the latest export was that maybe a form of agreement or project plan should be implemented so everyone knows exactly what they have to do and where they stand.

Things to consider:

  • Are there any import requirements to the US State? Most states of America have no quarantine requirements, but many do charge considerable costs at Customs, so it is important to know where you stand with this – contact your local State Veterinary office and the airport for more information. As this goes to press, the laws are in the process of changing for the UK with rats and some other rodents being included in the PETS passport scheme, which should remove the need for the 6 months quarantine to bring the rats to the UK in future months from outside EU countries. It is always worth contacting DEFRA at their London office to check on the latest requirements for the UK as well.
  • Is someone coming over from the USA to ‘do’ the export? Or is an individual prepared to collect the rats together from maybe a number of breeders and deliver them to the chosen airport (only Gatwick and Heathrow currently do livestock exports) or is it planned to use an animal courier? An animal courier will add about a third to the total cost, but may be the only method if no-one is prepared to drive the rats to the airport. (As it stands, we do not have any breeders living particularly close to either Gatwick or Heathrow Airports so this is a serious consideration.)
  • Flights – We know British Airways and Continental will do exports of animals. From my experience, British Airways were fantastic to talk to and work with as a complete novice to exporting via air. You need to ensure you understand their costs and requirements and get an idea of flights. In the case of BA, we needed to get the animals to the airport 3 hours before the flight was due to leave (7am for 10am flight with a 2.5hr drive for me each way). Flights should be booked between 2 weeks and 2 days before the actual flight and payment is made at the point where they are dropped off. Animals are normally exported in a special area of the hold, which is pressurised and air-conditioned and kept at a slightly cooler temperature than the cabin area we travel in.
  • Crates – who is going to source them? Crates need to be IATA approved for exporting rodents and these regulations are obtainable from the airlines or DEFRA. The boxes are usually made of wood or PVC with wire mesh lining. They must have ventilation mesh on at least 2-3 sides dependant on their size and must have an inspection window on the top. Size for rats is approximately 24” x 12” x 8” with a centre partition and are suitable for 6-10 rats per crate dependant on age (this is based on max of 6 ‘teenagers’ (3-4month age range) or 10x 6-8 week old kittens). From experience, I’d be reluctant to mix sexes either side of the partition as I felt that there was a chance for rats to manage to chew their way through that part and this has been a problem on previous exports. The lids of the crates will need to be well secured with duct tape and/or straps or stapled/screwed down. After being quoted in the range of £60-80 initially for crates, I managed to find a local source which was considerably cheaper, which was a very lucky find! For flying the charges for the crates is done on volumetric weight and the airline will either calculate this for you or give you the current formula to calculate. Ensure the crates are clearly labelled with ‘Livestock’.
  • Money – methods and timescales of payment need to be arranged. For international transfers either Paypal, Nochex or BACS are the cheapest way to transfer money. Expect to pay around 5% extra for the privilege. Agreement on a timescale of payment needs to be planned. Bear in mind that apart from the crates and the vets fees, you won’t know exactly how much the export is going to cost until the boxes are delivered to the airport unless you use a courier. Obviously there is a lot of faith likely to be going on here if an individual has agreed to hold and deliver the rats to the airport, so it may be polite to suggest a deposit be paid to secure the rats in advance with the balance nearer the time of export. If a courier is used, they will obviously expect some payment on booking and other arrangements need to be made to pay the breeders for the actual rats. Agreement on cost of rats from the breeders needs to be made in advance and it’s also advisable to get a quote from a veterinary practice as to their likely costs.
  • Vet certificate – the rats need to be vet checked and given a veterinary certificate within 48 hours of the planned export timescale. This is likely to vary on cost between £10-50 dependant on the practice.
  • Most importantly - rats! If you plan to get rats from several breeders, ensure it is possible to get the rats to one location and eventually down to the South East for airports. It may work best to plan around a major show in the UK or some other event. Please do not just assume it can be done as it could be near impossible for say a breeder in Scotland or the North of England to get rats down to say London! The usual methods of moving rats around the UK are via breeders and other rat keepers and I am not aware of any reasonably priced couriers for shipping within the UK. Try to plan rats that will be in small groups so they can be used to their companions before being boxed up and hence make the travelling less stressful. They are going to be in the crates for a minimum of probably 15 hours completely unattended, so it is really important the rats get on ok. For substrate I used a thin layer of my normal bedding material of Ecobed (shredded cardboard). I didn’t put any nesting material in the boxes as I didn’t want the rats to get excessively warm and was sure if they felt cold they would share body heat and cuddle up together. I gave them plenty of dry food and for moisture I soaked cucumber, carrot and apple overnight and gave them plenty of each. It is not possible to use water bottles as they would just drip everywhere and make a soggy mess and the only other real alternative is gel packs which are used by labs for exporting rodents but the food I gave was more than adequate.
  • After we had managed to arrange and sort out all of the above the result from the latest export was positive. Rats from Ann Storey, Veronica Simmons, Deb Mallett & Ed Reay, Julie Oliver and I are now living in California and Texas area with Concepcion Perez, Jennifer Flores, Elisabeth Brooks, Sarah Easter and Kirstin Allan. These breeders will have the opportunity to work with the first Burmese and black eyed cream/Himalayan/Siamese rats in America, hopefully work out some genetics information between our minks, pearls and chocolates and their own genes and hopefully work out if the roan rats exported are the same as anything they already have over there and start a breeding program with them.

    The big positives for me were BA who rang Sarah within an hour of me booking the flight for the rats, to check she was going to be there at Houston Airport to collect the rats. Also getting a running commentary via Elisabeth on messenger from Sarah on mobile phone at the airport just after they’d been collected from customs and being told that none of the rats showed any signs of stress from the flight and all were fit and well was a big relief.
    Additional stress was had (by all of us!) on the domestic onward flight to California being delayed due to bad weather and then the rats being shut into the cargo area at Sacramento for a further 5 hours until they opened, but all were fine and did not appear to have suffered for their ordeal.  

    I am now looking forward to hearing how my rats are getting on and seeing their offspring on the websites of these breeders as the months go on. To view pictures of the rats that were exported, go here.

    Article written by Estelle in 2005

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    Last modified: February 08, 2017