Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition)

NSPCA cites ‘gross animal cruelty’

- SHEREE BEGA sheree.bega@inl.co.za

THE NSPCA had observed “gross cruelty” towards the consignmen­t of 50 000 sheep and 600 cattle loaded onto the Al Messilah livestock carrier this week before being shipped to the Middle East, it said yesterday.

The Al Messilah, owned by Kuwaiti livestock exporter Al Mawashi, departed from East London on Thursday morning on a journey over the equator that will stretch between 14 and 21 days.

The NSPCA said it documented numerous contravent­ions to the Animal Protection Act, including inhumane and cruel handling, unacceptab­le levels of noxious gases and noise and overloadin­g.

“These contravent­ions included animals legs caught between trucks and ramps, dragging of the sheep by the fleece, legs and horns, punching and kicking, tail twisting, knee jabbing into the ribs of animals, and grabbing and tossing of animals.”

It said more than half of the sheep were not afforded adequate space and pens were overcrowde­d.

“At this time of the year, with expected high temperatur­es, this kind of stocking density is unacceptab­le, especially for the overweight animals.

“Six newborn lambs were discovered on board the vessel, with more likely to be born in the coming days.”

Most of the sheep, the organisati­on said, had not been sheared.

“These are all contravent­ions of the OIE (World Organisati­on for Animal Health) internatio­nal standards.”

The NSPCA recently took importers and exporters to court, seeking to prevent the live export, citing concerns that these animals would be subject to serious cruelty on the journey. Concerns related to the high temperatur­es the animals would be subject to in being transporte­d in sweltering heat, the stress of being land animals at sea, a changed diet, the difficulti­es of disposing of their waste safely, the condition of sick animals, among others.

Animal Law Reform South Africa (ALRSA) and their representa­tives at the Centre for Applied Legal Studies have been closely following the matter.

Last week, the Grahamstow­n High Court ordered that a reduced number of sheep may be exported live to the Middle East and instructed the Department of Agricultur­e, Land Reform and Rural Developmen­t to ensure compliance with the OIE guidelines.

“It seems almost impossible that the particular standards the court set could be observed in just one week,” said David Bilchitz, director at ALRSA and professor of law at the University of Johannesbu­rg.

“For example, the standards require each individual animal to be inspected to assess their fitness to travel: How could this be done for over 50 000 animals in such a short space of time?”

The NSPCA said that although it pointed out the blatant contravent­ions, the exporters were still allowed to load the sheep. “We are still waiting for the department to release a comprehens­ive report,” said Nazareth Appalsamy, senior inspector of the farm animal protection unit.

It laid charges in terms of the Act. In a statement, Al Mawashi South Africa said the export of live sheep was “critical for food security, religious sacrifice, and consumer preference for freshly slaughtere­d meat in Middle Eastern countries”.

The court, it said, required a report from the Eastern Cape Department of Rural Developmen­t and Agrarian Reform that showed compliance with the humane and ethical treatment of animals before the export permit could be issued.

Accredited live export veterinary expert Dr Colin Scrivener would travel with the animals, while stock handlers would work alongside him to care for the livestock and monitor animal health during the voyage, it said.

This week, 6 000 cattle drowned on their way from New Zealand to China when a cargo ship capsized in rough seas during Tyhoon Maysak, leading New Zealand to suspend cattle exports.

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