If you're a regular reader of our blogs you've already seen how lift trucks were used to move hippos and pandas. These stories might have had one of two effects on you: either your heart was warmed by how carefully these creatures were handled or your heart was aflame with concern that these animals could have been harmed during these tricky moves.
If you're among the former crowd, we're glad to have given you a smile. If you were among those with heartburn over the hippo handling, hear this: it was done by trained professionals.
I must admit I was in that latter crowd. I know how important it is that lift truck operators get site-specific and job-specific training for the material handling tasks they perform. So I wondered, who on earth has a job title like hippo handler and how do you get trained to be one?
I contacted my connections at Toyota, the lift truck supplier to the Philadelphia Zoo, and they got me an answer that's a good refresher for any operation that uses lift trucks.
First, let's address the loads in question: tons of moving muscle that you never want to spook. Believe it or not, these hippos were trained for this move too. The Philadelphia Zoo keepers trained them to enter the crate and to remain calm while the crate's door was closed. The crate offers another good example of the material handling art. It was designed specifically for large mammals such as hippos—large enough for the animal to fit comfortably but snug enough to keep it from shifting side to side. This design ensured that the animals didn't injure themselves or make the move more difficult than it had to be.
Now, about the lift truck operator. The Philadelphia Zoo has a trained operator on staff whose job is to know how to pick up a crated animal and move it onto a trailer for transfer to a new exhibit space. They also know how to offload the crate and stage it for the animal's exit.
So, yes, this zoo employs trained, licensed lift truck operators with very specialized skills. It also employs an experienced animal mover who consults on such moves. AND it employs Scott Hughes, who is a lift truck operator trainer. Scott not only teaches, but he occasionally transports animals himself.
So there's a little back-story on the moving adventures of Cindy & Unna and Sweetie & Sunshine. And for those hotshots out there thinking “What's the big deal, I could have done that”—a message from legal: “Don't try this at home.”