Australia's international trade in live animals reached new heights of notoriety recently when 57,937 sheep on the M.V. Cormo Express were rejected by Saudi Arabia on the grounds they were diseased. The sheep then spent an additional eight weeks at sea amid frantic negotiations by the Australian Government and industry with over 30 countries in search of an alternative port. Ultimately the public were led to believe that the animals were on their way back to Australia when an agreement already had been reached with the East African State of Eritrea, which accepted the animals as a gift of food aid coupled with substantial food for the sheep and funds to cover associated costs. Officially, 5,691 sheep who left Australia on 6 August died during transport. While somewhat relieved that, after 11 weeks at sea in cramped conditions and exposed to extremes of temperature and humidity, the animals were on dry land, observers, one of them a veterinarian sent by the international non-governmental organization Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), documented: dead sheep and a foul smell on board the ship, sheep leaving the ship with legs dirty from manure, stressed sheep in the hot and humid port, sheep lying down and panting in the hot and arid feedlot, sparse shade (a mixture of large thorn bushes and added cover), many lame animals including one with a possible fracture.
Responding to the news that sheep had arrived in Eritrea, CIWF's Joyce D'Silva said in correspondence to Australia's UK High Commission that "... the whole appalling tragedy must surely render it imperative that the Government undertakes a major review of policy and takes into account the inherent uncertainties of the long distance transport trade and the consequent disastrous effects on the welfare of so many sentient beings. A trade in meat is the only humane solution." Australia's live sheep trade with Saudi Arabia is currently suspended. The trade was also suspended some 13 years ago when Saudi Arabia rejected 11 shipments and the death rate climbed to an average 6% on transport ships. At that time, the trade ceased for almost ten years. Australia typically exports more live sheep to Saudi Arabia than to any other country. In 2002, Saudi Arabia bought 31% of Australia's 6,062,923 exported sheep. That same year 73,700 sheep, 2,081 cattle and over 3,000 goats died during transport. While the majority of deaths occur at sea due to starvation and salmonellosis, in 2002, more than 17,000 sheep and cattle died because of the heat and humidity. Furthermore, most animals are exported for slaughter to countries with no or ineffective animal welfare laws. This current crisis highlights the inherent cruelty of the trade in live animals and the intermittent disasters that cause additional animal suffering and mortality. Animals Australia is heading a hard-hitting national campaign to stop the live trade and CIWF is adding vital international support. So prominent is the topic that it is fast becoming an Australian federal election issue. For further information contact: www.animalsaustralia.org and www.ciwf.co.uk.