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EAST LONDON - The National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA) will take legal action, including laying charges against government, to ensure that there is an end to the unacceptable and unnecessary cruelty involved in the live animal export trade, the council said on Saturday.

On Friday, sorrow and anguish filled the East London harbour as NSPCA inspectors watched the last sheep being loaded onto the Al-Shuwaikh vessel, along with an estimated 57,000 other sheep destined for the Middle East for inhumane slaughter. There were inspectors monitoring the loading at the feedlot and in the harbour for the entire process, the NSPCA said in a statement.

Inspectors at the feedlot and the harbour worked tirelessly from the early morning until late at night monitoring the loading of these sheep on October 1 and 2, finally working a 27-hour shift on October 3 until the morning of October 4 when the last sheep was loaded.

“We were standing on the harbour after a final inspection of the vessel was undertaken, the atmosphere and sheer devastation was suffocating. We all knew what it meant for the sheep on board. However, the evidence collected over the last four days will protect millions of animals from ever being loaded onto these death ships in the future,” NSPCA spokesperson Meg Wilson said.

Agriculture department director of veterinary public health Dr Mphane Molefe accompanied the NSPCA’s veterinarian and a senior inspector on an inspection of the vessel on October 3.

"Dr Molefe appeared to be horrified at the conditions on board the ship, including dangerously high ammonia levels on some of the decks, parasitic conditions including faeces in food and water troughs, among other serious concerns; this was only on day 2.5 of the loading – the sheep still have to endure these worsening conditions for their entire journey. 

"Curiously, later that day, two veterinarians from the provincial government department undertook an inspection and advised our inspectors that nothing was wrong," Wilson said. 

At the insistence of Al Mawashi shipping company, the loading process continued throughout the night of  October 3. The NSPCA appealed to the provincial government representatives to put a stop to the loading, "as animals were being manhandled as a result of exhausted handlers and the dark conditions, but the intransigent government officials stood by and did nothing", she said.

The NSPCA called upon Dr Shawn Morris, an experienced veterinarian and feedlot expert in South Africa, to attend an inspection of the loading site in the harbour, as well as the vessel itself, following the NSPCA’s horrific findings on board the vessel and during the loading process.

“Having had an opportunity to attend the [loading] on the Al-Shuwaikh on Thursday evening and having been granted access to the vessel itself, it was evident that the department of agriculture, land reform, and rural development’s (DALRRD) lack of concern and, more importantly, their absence at the loading point as well as on the vessel (save for short periods of time) is of serious concern. I would describe the role of DALRRD as nothing more than window dressing,” Morris said in the statement.

The only authority in attendance during the entire loading operation at both the feedlot and on the harbour was the NSPCA, with the assistance of Eastern Cape SPCAs, whose personnel, including their veterinarian, worked around the clock to ensure that no sick, injured, or lame animals were loaded, clearly a role that should have been fulfilled by DALRRD veterinarians – especially if welfare was a primary concern. 

“Our authorities, in my opinion, have not given enough thought and consideration to the problem at hand and have certainly not applied their minds when it comes to the welfare of the animals. The authorities, in this instance, DALRRD, who have the powers vested in them, should do the right thing and not simply turn a blind eye when it comes to animal welfare,” Morris said.

"The NSPCA will be laying charges in terms of the Animals Protection Act No 71 of 1962 against the South African government, including the provincial government, as well as animal cruelty charges, assault charges, and multiple charges of obstruction against the personnel that handled the animals inhumanely, those that assaulted and hindered NSPCA inspectors from fulfilling their duties, and personnel of Al Mawashi who have a registered company in South Africa," Wilson said.

Furthermore, the NSPCA would take the necessary legal action to ensure that there is an end to the unacceptable and unnecessary cruelty involved in the live export trade.

“Seeing the suffering of these sheep even before their departure, and watching the Al-Shuwaikh depart has been heart breaking, but it has also affirmed our determination. We may have lost this battle – but we have not lost the war. We will do everything in our power to ensure that no animal is ever loaded on board these death ships again,” Wilson said.

African News Agency