Ordeal Of Stranded Sheep Ends With Secret
by Sherry Morse and Patricia
The Australian press is calling it 'The Red
Solution' and its mission has now been accomplished: to rescue
more than 50,000 sheep who have been stuck on a ship in the
Middle East since August 5.
The Australian-conceived 'Solution' was a
top secret operation carried out with help from sources in
Egypt and Libya. The Australian government has agreed to pay
the African country of Eritrea the equivalent of $915,000
to take the sheep.
Eritrea is one of the world's poorest countries.
The long-suffering sheep are to be slaughtered and distributed
to the country's citizens.
Details of the plan were announced at a news
conference October 25 by Warren Truss, Australia's Agriculture
Minister, shortly after the sheep had begun unloading at the
Eritrean port of Massawa.
"It was imperative that details of the
negotiations and movement of the ship over the past few days
remained confidential in order to secure a satisfactory outcome
for the negotiations," said Truss.
Australians had been told the sheep were on
their way back to Australia.
The Australian Royal Society for the Prevention
of Cruelty to Animals (Australian RSPCA), appalled by the
suffering of the sheep, had been calling for the surviving
sheep to be killed at sea to end their cruel ordeal, after
almost three months of enduring cramped quarters and temperatures
ranging from 113 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit.
Prior to the secret deal with Eritrea, the
Australian government had considered dumping the sheep at
eight Australian ports and offshore islands for slaughter.
Farm groups in Australia had protested the
return of the sheep, saying they could threaten their existing
Upon hearing the sheep had gone to Eritrea,
Australia's National Farmers Federation announced satisfaction,
even though they will have to pay back the $10 million spent
on the sheep while at sea.
The animals had been originally bred and sold
to Saudi Arabia for slaughter for the Islamic holiday of Ramadan.
But when the animals arrived in the Middle East aboard the
'Cormo Express', they were refused by the Saudi government
for import because the Saudis said six percent of the sheep
- one percent more than their regulations allowed - were suffering
from scabby mouth disease.
Veterinarians on board disputed the high percentage
cited by the Saudis.
After failing to find another buyer, the Saudi
importer offered to give away the sheep to another country.
By that time, the sheep could not be returned to Australia
because of quarantine rules.
Exporters of live sheep from Australia to
Saudi Arabia make about $195 million a year, but the trade
is often criticized for inhumane treatment of animals.
It is estimated that each year, approximately
78,000 sheep die on their way from Australia to slaughter
in the Middle East.
Live animals who are exported are particularly
likely to contract scabby mouth disease because they typically
undergo their journey in closely packed, cramped conditions
which makes it easy for the viral infection to spread between
Scabby mouth disease is not fatal, and usually
heals after several weeks.
© 2003 Animal News Center, Inc.