Pigs do fly, thanks to Miami-based Worldwide Livestock Services.
So do horses, cattle, goats, boars, giraffes, ostriches, sheep and other normally land-bound creatures.
A small company, Worldwide Livestock Services (WLS), manages exports and imports of animals through Miami International Airport, moving them between the U.S., Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia.
“We ship animals all over the world,” said Alex Alessandrini who, with his brother Tony, co-founded the company in 2004. Alex is its owner and president.
“Our clients — owners of horses and other livestock, farms, zoos and private collectors — want to move their animals quickly and safely within the United States or to and from foreign locations, so they come to us. About 80 percent of our business is moving horses, and the rest is made up of pigs, cattle, goats, sheep, zoo animals and exotics,” said Alex, who has been helping to transport animals since he was 10 years old.
WLS, one of only two Miami companies that ship livestock by air cargo — the other is Animal Air Services, Inc. — is experiencing strong growth, with transport of horses alone during the first half of this year nearly matching the total for full-year 2013. And the company is expanding its business, adding a new warehouse in September for holding horses in quarantine. WLS doesn’t use advertising and has grown over the years by word of mouth, Alex said.
Shipping animals by air cargo is expensive and requires expert care. Moving one horse from MIA to Amsterdam costs about $5,600, Alex said. Some of the horses moved by WLS, which has eight employees, are worth millions of dollars, and fly accompanied by the owner, a groom or another representative of the owner.
Costs vary, depending on the number of animals transported, weight and distance traveled. Fees charged by WLS include handling, air and ground transportation, temporary boarding (if required), sanitary permits and other documentation.
Sometimes WLS ships several horses or dozens of other animals at the same time.
In 2013, WLS imported and exported about 1,200 horses, Alex added, as well as 700 cattle, 400 pigs and more than 100 goats by air cargo. The company also has shipped 32 boars from Miami to Brazil, a lion to a zoo in Jamaica, two giraffes and three zebras to the Dominican Republic and transported other exotic creatures for farms and zoos.
From January to June of this year, WLS transported 1,092 horses, 232 pigs, 79 cows, 68 goats, six boxes of birds, four dogs, three roosters and one zebra. The company doesn’t ship sea creatures.
How it works
Horses and other animals arrive at the WLS staging center and office near MIA before their scheduled flight, where the company has specialized employees and equipment (indoor air stables, pens, animal feed, ramps, a horse scale). The center is packed with folding horse pens and has bunk beds for personnel. Since cargo flights sometimes leave late at night or early in the morning, the Alessandrini brothers and their employees have to be on site to manage and move animals at any time.
WLS employees load the animals onto company vans and move them to the plane’s loading area, helping to place them securely on the cargo carrier and, in some cases, accompanying animals on the flight. Specially designed stalls and crates are employed for animals on air cargo planes.
WLS uses a variety of cargo carriers, including DHL Express, Martinair, LAN Cargo, Amerijet International, Atlas Air and Caribbean Airlines Cargo.
Also, WLS picks up animals shipped through MIA, makes sure they are well cared for, provides temporary stable accommodations and isolation (if required) and arranges air or land transportation to their final destination.
Typically, animals are shipped without being drugged. But, Alex pointed out, sedatives are occasionally used if, for example, a spirited stallion is placed in a stall near a mare on the same flight.
WLS works closely with its sister company, Thebas Farm, which is owned by Tony Alessandrini.
Set up about five years ago, Thebas, located in Miami 15 minutes from MIA, has modern stables and exercise areas for horses before being exported or after arrival. Thebas, a government certified quarantine facility, provides temporary accommodation for horses, has trained employees to feed and care for them, as well as a staff veterinarian.
WLS also works with Lazcar International, a company that arranges travel logistics for clients and their animals. Lazcar is owned by Celia Alessandrini, Alex and Tony’s mother, and was started by her 32 years ago.
A portion of WLS’s business stems from farms and other buyers who want to import or export horses and other livestock to increase their herds or to breed. But the seasonal movements of polo ponies, show horses and thoroughbreds account for the largest share by far. In Latin America, for example, owners of polo ponies in Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela and Colombia send their horses to Miami so they can compete in Wellington’s world-class winter polo season, which runs from January through April. Polo players and their horses also come to Wellington from Europe and other parts of the world, and use the services of WLS, Thebas and Lazcar.
After the Wellington season ends, owners typically ship their horses back to their own countries or to another venue.
Owners of show horses (dressage) and competitive jumpers also ship their animals to Miami in October and November from Europe and Asia and send them back in March or April. Owners of race horses also use WLS to move their animals in and out of the country.
How WLS evolved
WLS is one of three Alessandrini-owned companies working together to manage each aspect of animal handling, shipping and logistics. Lazcar International, the first of the Alessandrini triad, put the family in the animal transport business.
Lazcar was started 32 years ago by Celia Alessandrini, a Cuban immigrant. She decided on “Lazcar” by combining parts of the names of St. Lazarus and La Virgen de la Caridad (Our Lady of Charity), both important devotional figures for Cuban Catholics.
Celia had worked for a livestock shipping agent here, and in 1982 decided to launch her own business. “I really started with nothing,” said the owner and president of Lazcar. “My mother loaned me $1,000 and I began working on my own,” she said.
Lazcar, also based in Miami, many years acted as an agent and shipped animals. Celia’s sons, Tony and Alex, began helping their mother at Lazcar when they were youngsters, learning about handling and transporting animals there.
Over time, Lazcar changed its role after Alex and Tony started their own companies. Today, Lazcar, which has seven employees, is a shipping agent and freight forwarder and arranges travel logistics for animals handled by WLS and Thebas. It ensures that traveling animals are booked on flights to their destinations, meet the complex sanitary requirements of the U.S. and other countries, have updated health certificates, permits and other documents related to export and import rules.
Exports and imports of animals in the United States are subject to regulation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the Federal Aviation Administration. Other nations have their own government agencies and regulations.
“We’re a travel agent for animals,” said Celia. Working as a group, Lazcar, WLS and Thebas are the only companies that handle livestock shipments from start to finish, she added. WLS and Thebas also use other agents and brokers who want to ship animals.
By the early 2000s, the Alessandrinis saw there was enough demand for a separate company that provided a staging area and delivered animals to their flights. So the two brothers set up WLS in 2004. A few years later, Tony established Thebas Farm, which now has seven employees, to isolate (quarantine) horses for sanitary reasons and provide temporary stable services.
“Our business basically grew as the volume of animal shipments increased through Miami, and as people heard about our record for performance, safety and first-class service,” said Tony, the president and owner of Thebas Farm. “And with the growth of the polo sector in Wellington, Miami has become a center for imports and exports of horses and other high value animals. We were able to fill a gap by providing high-quality service.”
A major client of the Alessandrini’s companies agrees.
Horse Service International B.V. is a company that handles and transports horses in their home country of The Netherlands and internationally. It moved about 150 high-value horses through Miami last year, using the Alessandrinis’ services.
HSI has worked with Lazcar and the Alessandrinis for about 25 years, and the group “is our preferred agent to handle our horses upon arrival in Miami,” said Peter van Nieuwenborg, export manager at HSI, which is based in Meterik and operates out of Amsterdam. Clients of HSI include owners of jumpers that compete each year in Wellington and Europeans who have sold horses to a U.S. customer or to customers in Latin America and the Caribbean and use Miami as their entry point, he added. “They have a 24/7 mentality, and the staff is very professional and easy to communicate with.
“It is very important for us to have a reliable agent at the other side of the world,” van Nieuwenborg said. “We are working with live animals, some of them expensive. But most of the time the emotional value is much higher than the economic value. Our clients trust us with their horses, and when they fly, we lose our influence over them. It is very important that you feel the horses will be handled with care and compassion. That’s why we work with them.”
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Worldwide Livestock Services
Sources: Worldwide Livestock Services, Lazcar International and Thebas Farm, Miami
Horses have passports, too
Importing and exporting animals is a complicated business.
To move horses between foreign countries and the U.S., for example, the animals must meet a stable full of sanitary requirements set by the governments on both sides.
Animals arriving at Miami International Airport are inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which checks health and travel records and ensures that the horses are free of disease. Horses from some countries are subject to quarantine.
Other countries have their own laws and sanitary regulations governing the import/export of livestock and wild animals, and other government agencies may establish additional requirements.
All this creates a haystack of paperwork, which has to accompany each horse on its international travels.
To make it easier for these animals to travel from country to country, high-flying horses have their own “passports,” or health and identity documents. These include the precise identity of a horse (name, sex, age, color, markings) and its family lineage, the results of tests for equine diseases, a health certificate issued by a veterinarian, travel history and permanent home address.
It’s not clear, however, if these peripatetic ponies can earn frequent flier awards.