Turkish Airlines Will No Longer Fly Untamed Animals

Turkish Airlines announced today that it would be changing its rules regarding the transport of live exotic animals. The airline is responding to government orders aimed at tackling the spread of the coronavirus. Turkish Airlines is thought to be the first carrier to ban untamed animals because of the pandemic. Is it a valid approach?

Turkish Airlines tail
Turkish Airlines will stop carrying exotic animals to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Photo: Getty Images

Turkish Airlines will stop flying untamed animals

Airlines provide a convenient mode of ferrying animals around the world. Whether the animals are pets or are being transported for commercial purposes, carriers are usually obliging if strict rules are followed. However, the tolerance for flying untamed animals is now shifting.

COVID-19 is the viral infection believed to have originated from a Chinese wet-market that sold both live and dead animals. The spread of the disease is now stimulating caution over recent instances of animal-derived illnesses, such as SARS and MERS. The severity of the coronavirus pandemic on public health has led Turkish Airlines to decide to stop flying exotic animals.

It’s working in line with guidance from the Turkish General Directorate of Food and Control of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. According to Turkish Airlines’ website, the organization says:

“Entry into Turkey of exotic animals and invertebrates, amphibians, dogs, cats, ferrets, ornamental fish, reptiles, rodents, domestic rabbits and all birds from all countries and for any purpose, accompanied by passengers or transported by cargo, is suspended.”

Turkish Airlines front
Many recent worrisome diseases have come from animal transmission so Turkey is aiming to mitigate that risk. Photo: Getty Images

Will the novel approach pay off?

Turkish Airlines’ response to the coronavirus in this regard is one of a kind. Many airlines are fighting the virus from a person-to-person transmission perspective. This includes social distancing, handing out face masks, and sanitizing.

However, Turkey and its flag carrier are not wrong to bring in new live exotic animal regulation. According to a branch of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) website, 60% of emerging infectious diseases have come from zoonoses, defined as “diseases and infections naturally transmitted between people and vertebrate animals.” What’s more, of the 30 new human pathogens detected in the last 30 years, 75% have originated in animals.

The danger with these diseases is that they are highly unpredictable. For obvious reasons, scientists know very little about their effect on the human population. According to the WHO, these diseases also have a high fatality rate, and we lack the appropriate vaccines to combat them.

Turkish Airlines 737-800
Will other airlines get behind Turkish Airlines’ approach? Photo: Marvin Mutz via Flickr

By banning the transport of exotic animals on its aircraft, Turkish Airlines can significantly decrease the risk of new human diseases. It’s something they can only be thanked for years in the future. With that in mind, should other airlines follow Turkish Airlines’ lead?

What effect will this have on the aviation industry?

To our knowledge, Turkish Airlines is the first carrier to suspend the transportation of exotic animals due to COVID-19. Others could follow in the future because the transport of untamed animals has been somewhat problematic in the past.

In August 2018, Southwest Airlines made a change to its emotional support policy after an increase in unusual animals. (Some of you may recall an emotional support peacock). It says it now only accepts common, trained service animals, such as dogs.

Southwest on runway
Two years ago Southwest changed its policy on exotic animals. Photo: Getty Images

Yet, there’s even more of an incentive for airlines that care about animal welfare. In February 2019, Turkish Airlines made a promise to stop the transportation of African Grey Parrots after the airline was accidentally embroiled in illegal animal trafficking.

This new dimension of stopping exotic animal transportation due to the coronavirus is bound to turn some heads in the industry. It seems like the obvious choice for animal comfort, health concerns, passenger comfort, and avoiding criminal organizations.

Do you believe Turkish Airlines’ new policy will work? Do you think other airlines will follow? Have your say in the comments.