Melissa Kaplan's
Herp Care Collection
Last updated January 1, 2014

Moving and Shipping Reptiles

The following is applicable to most snakes, lizards and chelonians

©1997, 2000 Melissa Kaplan


Place crumpled paper (preferably NOT newspaper) into a foam-lined box such as those used to ship live fish - check with your local fresh and saltwater fish store to see if you can get one that they are otherwise throwing out. Or you can line a regular cardboard box with panels of foam cut to fit the bottom, top and sides of the INSIDE of the cardboard box. Poke a couple of holes through the top of the box, both through the cardboard and the foam liner.

Mark the box on all sides with the following:



THIS SIDE UP upwards pointing arrow FRAGILE

Place the reptile in a cloth bag which allows some movement. Tie the top of the bag closed with strong twine or rubberbands (use more than one in case of one breaks). Then, fold over the tied-off section and overwrap the twine or rubberbands with masking or duct tape. This will ensure that no one will escape from the top of the bag. The receiver can cut through the tape and underlying ties, or just cut off the top of the bag, to free the reptile.

Place the bagged animal on the cushion of crumpled paper or foam 'peanuts' packaging material. Place some more crumpled paper on top of the bagged reptile. You want to cushion the reptile, provide air space, and allow some room for the reptile to move around while still keeping the reptile supported enough so that it doesn't get banged around too much if the shippers are less gentle than they should be despite your signage.

If you are shipping during cooler weather (please do not ship during winter or hot summer conditions), you can get one or two heat packs for gloves and pockets from sporting goods stores or wilderness outfitters (Eddie Bauer, Big 5, Oshman's, REI, etc.) that are activated by mushing them up (squeezing and manipulating them with your hands). Tape this to the inside of the top panel of foam.

Alternative method suitable for larger lizards
Use a Vari-Kennel type dog/cat carrier. Unscrew the top and bottom and line the inside of the carrier with fabric to block the holes and the inside of the gate/door. Affix padding of several towels or layers of cloth to the bottom and sides and gate. Reassemble carrier. When the animal is placed inside, duct tape the carrier around the join of the top and bottom and around the gate/door. Label similar to the box as described above. This is suitable for shipping by air.

If shipping by USPS pack the carrier inside a cardboard box, with the proper signage and ventilation holes.



United States Postal Service
Reptiles can be shipped by overnight (express) mail. Not all post offices have the same shipping times. Check with the branch you intend to ship from and see if they have overnight express to the zip code you are shipping to. If not, check with some of the other post office locations in your area to find out if there is any difference. Smaller outlying post offices are more likely to have to add an extra day as their packages have to first be routed to the larger facilities. Be sure, too, to check with the post office for their cut-off time; if you are late getting your package to the post office and getting it processed, your reptile will end up sitting in a back room at the postal facility until collected for the following day's shipment. This will be a major problem if you were shipping on Friday for Saturday delivery.

The Post Office does not guarantee live delivery. You can insure the shipment so that if the animal dies because the box got crushed you will get paid for the amount of insurance. But if the animal bakes or freezes to death, you won't. All that being said, I have never had a problem with reptiles I have shipped via overnight Express Mail, nor with reptiles shipped to me this way. While not all post offices may do this, ours calls us (a good reason to have the recipient's early morning phone number on the shipping documents as well as one they will be at later in the day) at the time they are sorting out the morning delivery and find our boxes. It's worth being dressed and ready to go pick up the box when they call at 6:00-6:30 AM to pick up the box so the reptiles don't have to spend another half day or so on the truck while the rest of the mail is being delivered.

Note that the US Post Office will not accept snakes for shipment.


Many airlines now leery of accepting live animals due to the public reaction to their not handling them appropriately which led to some highly publicized deaths and suits files against them. When it comes to shipping animals that aren't cats and dogs, you will run into personnel who are ill-informed or otherwise confused about how the animals are to be crated for shipment, some seeming to believe that pet owners shipping one or two exotic pets are to meet guidelines established for commercial sellers shipping dozens or hundreds of animals per shipment. Things haven't been made any easier in the aftermath of September 11 as packages are checked more closely and delays occur.

Reptiles used to be accepted by Delta Dash (Delta Airline's priority cargo service) and American Airline's Priority Parcel service. Over the several years it has been increasingly difficult to find airlines who will take live reptiles from private parties in air cargo. This could be due to an increase in the number of herpers who behaved stupidly, cruelly and illegally in the way they shipped and smuggled reptiles into cargo and passenger compartments.

Due to these mishaps and behavior that reflects badly on all who keep herps, even before September 11, it was difficult, if not impossible, to find an airline or air cargo company to accept shipments from those who had not previously established a commercial or individual account with them. The U.S. Postal Service's Express Mail service does involve air shipments, but the person or company doing the shipping is dealing directly with the post office, not the air cargo company with whom the USPS has such contracts.

As with any type of shipping, mark the shipping contain CLEARLY with the sender's name, address and telephone number, and the recipient's name, address and telephone numbers. To prevent smearing due to anything getting spilled on the box or it being carried through the rain, place a layer of wide clear tape over the sender and recipient's addresses. Once you, the sender, gets the package shipped off, contact the recipient and tell them the flight the animal is on, and the airbill number so that they can track it as necessary.



General Suggestions
Always ship a healthy animal - the stress on a sick one can be fatal. Never feed the animal within 12 hours of shipping, and try to avoid fluids during that time to help prevent their soiling their bag and substrate en route.

When shipped within the U.S., most animals are in transit for only about 18 hours, from the time the sender leaves home till the time the animal is picked up from the cargo office. USPS Express Mail delivers to your door, but may call you so that you can pick up the box early in the morning.

Technically, carriers such as United Parcel and Airborne will not knowingly carry live animals. If you have obtained some through these carriers, it was because the carriers did not know what they were shipping. Shipping this way means that there is no way you can hope to get controlled temperature environment, that the box won't get dropped or jostled, and there obviously there is no recourse should the animal arrive dead or injured...


Shipping outside the United States
The following was posted in rec.pets.herp some time ago by a herp breeder:

On the USA side
As long as the animals are not on CITES, this is what needs to be done:

You need to fill out a U.S. Fish & Wildlife certificate of origin

You need to enclose a list of animals in the box.

The box needs to be marked with the number of animals, and their scientific/common names.

Make arrangements with the airline (Delta) and tell them what's going out of the country, and follow the procedures they've set.

Make sure the box goes through a Wildlife Inspection Port. There are 29 of them around the US; check with the US Fish & Wildlife Service for more information on the required permits and process.


In Canada
I found the following out when discussing green iguanas with USFWS when researching one of the articles on the reptile trade.

You need to get CITES permits from the Canadian Management Authority to take your iguana across the international line from Canada to the US. The USFWS recognizes iguanas are household pets and so you do not need permits to take them with you out of the US. The problem is that Canada will not let Canadian citizens who took their iguana with them to the US back into Canada with them.

Canadian citizens/residents who are going to be vacationing or going to school in the U.S. need to find someone in Canada who will care for the iguana for them while they are gone.

U.S. citizens/residents should probably play it safe and not take their iguana with them if they are visiting or going to school in Canada - not if they intend to return to the U.S. and still have their iguana. Contact to Canadian Management Authority for more recent rulings.


Assuming this is not a CITES species, you need to check to see if the state/province/country requires a health certificate, import Certificate, or value added tax (VAT). Find out where these documents are to be affixed to your pet's crate or paperwork so that they can be easily accessed by the various customs officials.

It is easier to ship animals within the EU than to and from the EU.

Additional Information
Check out the following websites for more information on procedures, packing and shipping:

Moving, Vacation and Boarding Stress in Green Iguanas

Delta Airlines Pet Travel Information

Harford Reptile Breeding Center

Marie Eguro's Overseas Shipping (US-Japan)

Pet Travel Agents Book Any Beast

Reptile Rescue Transportation - Email List for Serial Transportation - Volunteer pilots fly (or drive by special bus) animals in need

Need to update a veterinary or herp society/rescue listing?

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