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Things you only know if you’re an airport animal handler

Danielle Goldstein

…according to Claire Beadle, 32.

Small creatures like breaking into the passenger cabin

‘Here in the Animal Reception Centre at Gatwick, we often have to deal with little animal stowaways. I had a call about a tarantula in the aisle of a plane from Cuba. Luckily they’d already caught it by the time I arrived! We also get little geckos that people don’t realise have crawled into their bags. We look after them until Defra finds them an appropriate place to go.’

Zoos are responsible for the weirdest passengers

‘We’ve had lots of tree kangaroos, lemurs, pygmy slow lorises and monkeys travelling through here. Plus leafcutter ants – they’re fun! – which are often brought in for zoos and used for educational purposes or breeding programmes.’

Pet owners fret the most about conditions in the plane’s hold

‘The owners have never been in the hold of an aircraft, so they worry, but a lot of planning goes into getting an animal on board. Animals travel really well and I always reassure people that it’s quite calm in the hold. It goes dark and the heating is on, so the animals tend to lay down and go to sleep.’

Parrots are the most musical pets

‘We get rabbits and guinea pigs, and sometimes someone even brings through a lizard. But after cats and dogs, parrots are among the most popular pets. We often get them singing “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” and “How Much is That Doggie in the Window?”.’

Being an animal handler isn’t all cuteness and kittens

‘We had a gentleman here last year who’d just flown from the Caribbean with his dog. He’d had to stay there through the whole of Hurricane Irma because there had been no flights carrying animals, and they both had injuries when they arrived. I couldn’t imagine how traumatic it must have been.’

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