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Durban - Shipping cattle by sea was “cruel and inhumane”, the National Council of the SPCA said on Wednesday in an application for an urgent interdict to stop 2 000 animals being loaded on a ship bound for Mauritius.
It would be more humane to slaughter the cattle in South Africa and export the meat, the NSPCA said in its bid in the Eastern Cape High Court.
The eight respondents include the agriculture minister; the registrar of animal improvement for the Department of Agriculture; the Eastern Cape agriculture MEC; and John Page, trustee of Page Farming Trust.
The ship, MV Barkley Pearl, was due to dock in East London on Thursday to load cattle from the Page Farming Trust, just outside the city, before heading for Port Louis.
The NSPCA made the application after learning that the trust had allegedly not applied for a permit to export cattle.
The trust had informed the NSPCA in April that it intended to transport cattle on the Barkley Pearl “sometime in August”, and asked it to voice any legitimate concerns to avoid a last-minute interdict.
The NSPCA replied by labelling the shipment “cruel and inhumane” and suggested an alternative of slaughtering the cattle here then exporting the meat.
It said it had tried to establish when the cattle would be loaded and had been “met by a wall of silence”.
It brought the urgent application when it learnt the ship would arrive today.
The matter was heard on Wednesday and adjourned to Thursday after the trust indicated its intention to oppose the application and said it needed time to file responding papers.
In court papers Grace de Lange, a senior NSPCA inspector, said she had observed the loading of more than 2 000 cattle from the Page Farming Trust on to the Barkley Pearl last year.
The Marshall Islands-registered ship, which has been converted and designed specifically for transporting live animals by sea, is 92m long and 16m wide. It has six decks where the cattle are housed.
The ship was at sea for 10 days and Lange said she flew to Mauritius to observe how the cattle were offloaded.
“It took them almost 16 hours to offload all the cattle. For the cattle (that survived) the entire ordeal lasted more than 13 days,” Lange said in her affidavit.
She described how the cattle in the lower decks suffered the most because of the build-up of faeces and urine, making it slippery. The ammonia meant many of them were unable to breathe properly and were extremely weak.
She also described the “incredible cruelty meted out by the Mauritian handlers who used prodders on the testicles of the bulls”.
Lange said the cattle were beaten unnecessarily with planks, some of them had their tails twisted and others were kicked in the face.
She had seen a bull that was left on the ship because it was too weak to move, she said.
“Its eyes were protruding out of its head and it was completely overcome with panic.”
Before she could reach the bull, she said it was killed.
Marcelle Meredith, the national executive director of the NSPCA’s board, said in her affidavit that New Zealand was the latest in a long list of countries opposed to transporting live animals by sea.
“It must be appreciated that animals like cattle are land animals,” Meredeith said.
“They are not used to being on the sea and are absolutely terrified. The 10 to 13 days they spend on a ship from South Africa to Mauritius is the most traumatic for them.”
She said the phenomenon of eyes popping out of an animal’s head was a consequence of incredible anxiety and trauma they experienced.
“It is deeply concerning to the NSPCA that animals are expected to endure high levels of cruelty and suffering at the hands of exporters and those who export them,” she said.
“It would make a mockery of our statutory law if this court were to permit a practice as horrific as the one that the Page Farming Trust are about to subject the cattle to.
“We have seen how animals collapse because they are not properly fed and watered and also because they do not properly sleep on board these ships.
“We have seen how collapsed animals often get trampled by other animals and how they suffer agonising injuries, including broken legs, which are simply never treated.
“Many of them ultimately die a slow and extremely painful death.”
Yusuf Patel, the secretary-general of the United Ulama Council of SA, provided an affidavit endorsing the NSPCA’s recommendation that it would be more humane for animals to be slaughtered in South Africa before exporting the meat.
Last year the NSPCA obtained a warrant under the Animals Protection Act to prevent Page Farming Trust from sending another consignment of animals to Mauritius. However, Meredith said the trust then went to the high court and overturned the order.