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Best practice for animal transport

Guidance on the transport of laboratory animals, including non-human primates.

General principles

Most laboratory animals will undergo transportation at some time in their life, whether this is from one country to another, or between establishments, buildings or rooms. Transport can be a significant stressor that may have an impact on both animal welfare and research outcomes. The primary objective for all those involved in animal transport should be to move the animals in a manner that does not jeopardise their well-being and ensures their safe arrival at their destination in good health, with minimal distress. Many aspects of the transport process need to be considered, including:

  • The route and journey plan
  • Container design
  • Vehicle design
  • The competence and attitude of drivers and others involved in the transportation
  • Travel duration
  • The nature of food and water supplies
  • Arrangements for acclimatisation after transport

Critical appraisal and refinement of all these organisational aspects of transport is essential if animal welfare is to be safeguarded during journeys. Guidance is available from a working group of the UK Laboratory Animal Science Association (LASA), of which the NC3Rs was part. The US Institute for Laboratory Animal Research (ILAR) has also published guidelines for the humane transportation of research animals. You can read a review of these guidelines, published in 2007. 



It is important that all relevant legislation on animal transport is complied with. Designating a person in each establishment to be in charge of remaining up-to-date on transport legislation will help to ensure compliance.

Within Europe, Council Regulation (EC) No. 1/2005 on the protection of animals during transport and related operations sets out minimum standards for the welfare of animals during transport. The Regulation applies to the transport of all live vertebrate animals for the purposes of economic activity, i.e. a business or trade. It is implemented in England by The Welfare of Animals (Transport) (England) Order 2006 and by parallel legislation in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Defra has published an overview of the requirements of the Regulation. European Convention for the Protection of Animals during International Transport (Revised) also applies to the movement of live animals within the EU. 

The transport of live animals by air is governed by the Live Animals Regulations of the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

CITES permits must be obtained for all movements (import and export) of CITES listed species (e.g. non-human primates) between countries signed up to the Convention.

Genetically altered mice

Transport of live genertically altered (GA) mice should be avoided, wherever possible, by the use of fresh embryos, or cryopreserved embryos and gametes. A working group convened on behalf of the main UK funders of medical and biological research has recommended the adoption of a national passport system for all GA mice that are moved between establishments nationally and internationally.

Non-human primates

International transport of non-human primates is particularly challenging, because of the multiple stages involved in the journeys, the need for shipment and quarantine to comply with the legislation of each country, and because few airlines are willing to carry these animals. Both the LASA and ILAR guidelines include special considerations for the transportation of non-human primates. Minimising journey duration is critically important; with careful planning, close monitoring and suitable contingency plans, domestic travel should be achieved within 12 hours in most countries and international journeys completed within approximately 56 hours. Behavioural changes reflecting stress persist in non-human primates for over a month after arrival, so a period of acclimation and social adjustment is essential to enable the animals to recover from transport and relocation before scientific procedures begin.