Hellish Journeys for Australian Sheep

Fewer than 23 million people live in Australia, compared to over 74 million sheep. Once a sheep is no longer producing wool at peak rates, economics dictates what its owner will do: ship it overseas to a country with a higher demand and lower supply. After all, Australians can eat only so much mutton.

That “shipping it overseas” part is a lot more problematic than it may sound. In fact, it means torture, starvation and often death for the live “cargo,” as Care2′s Sharon Seltzer has reported. According to Animals Australia and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), “Tens of thousands of animals don’t survive the sea journey.” Animals Australia says that “2.6 million sheep have perished on live export vessels since the trade began.” In 2010 alone, the group reports, 27,000 sheep “died before reaching their destination.”

Not that sheep have it so great at home in Australia. They are subject to mulesing: slicing skin off their legs and hindquarters, without anesthesia, to prevent flystrike. The shearing process is also brutal as shearers are paid for speed; on top of that, “many sheep die from exposure after premature shearing,” according to PETA.

But once they are chosen for overseas transport sheep face a whole new level of hell. Recently, PETA reports, “tens of thousands of sick sheep” on a ship from Australia to the Middle East “were left stranded aboard their vessels, struggling to survive in sweltering weather” after Bahrain and Kuwait both turned them away.

Even without problems at their destinations, many sheep do not survive the overseas trip, or even the trip to the docks. This picture shows sheep hanging over the edge of a transport truck because they are so crowded; conditions on ships are similar. They are packed so tightly into the trucks and then ships that “many are unable to reach food and water troughs.” Crowding also means some sheep are trampled to death, according to animal advocacy group Viva!

European Union rules permit animals to go over a day without adequate food and water.

“The grueling journey can last several weeks through all weather extremes, with sheep confined amid their own waste on ships that hold up to 100,000 animals. Conditions are hot and cramped—the perfect environment to spread” painful diseases.

Australian sheep are not the only ones forced to endure and often die during miserable transports. Recently 45 sheep died while being transported from the port at Ramsgate in England. The doomed segment of their journey started on a truck “carrying more than 500 live sheep on four tiers,” according to Farmers Weekly. The truck was declared unfit for travel, and when the sheep were unloaded, 43 of them were so lame that they had to be killed. The surviving sheep were placed in a holding area, where two more of them then drowned after the floor collapsed.

Another truck was turned away from Ramsgate because the sheep aboard had no access to water. Farmers Weekly reports that authorities “rectified the situation,” but if that is the case, it is unclear why the sheep were then sent away. Ramsgate recently suspended live transports from its port.

A spokesman for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said that “If meat needs to go to the Continent then it should be on the hook, not on the hoof,” in order to prevent this kind of suffering. Personally I’d rather see less (or even better, no) meat and not have anyone “on the hook,” but even those who support the meat industry like the RSPCA find live transport unsupportable.

The Australian sheep industry is not interested. Meat & Livestock Australia reports that “live sheep exports” are expected to stabilize “after 2011′s decline, in terms of numbers shipped.” The Australian government has also failed to take any action.

What you can do: boycott wool. If there were no market for wool, there would be no spent wool sheep to transport overseas.


Related Stories:

Nearly 3,000 Cattle Die On A Stranded Ship

Ask Australia to Ban Live Animal Export to Middle East

Mideast Nations Agree to Halt Slaughter of Australian Sheep


Sarah F.
Sarah Forde6 years ago

I'm not sure boycotting wool is the answer as these sheep are not actually USED for wool. The Australian wool industry uses our own wool or imported wool from NZ.

What a silly suggestion.

I find it interesting that people are so against this and yet would gladly ask for the feral camels in Australia to undertake the same trauma, times three, by wanting them to be shipped to the Middle East...

Colleen Prinssen
Colleen Prinssen6 years ago

ah crap i posted this alredy.

Colleen Prinssen
Colleen Prinssen6 years ago

so these sheeep got hell. if we export the camel to be saved, they will get a "first class trip?" because they are camels and being saved from being shot and going to waste?

Yulan Lawson
Yulan Lawson6 years ago

Lyn White is the Campaign Director for Animals Australia. She is recognised and respected as one of Australia's foremost animal advocates and animal cruelty investigators.

Formerly a South Australian police officer, Lyn worked with the Animals Asia Foundation on animal cruelty issues in South East Asia before joining Animals Australia in 2003. The Cormo Express disaster in that year, in which nearly 6,000 animals perished at sea, precipitated Lyn's first investigation into the live export trade. Since then she has conducted 11 investigations in the Middle East, Turkey and Indonesia documenting the cruel treatment of Australian animals exported live for slaughter.

Evidence gathered has resulted in a leading live export company being prosecuted for animal cruelty, the suspension of the live trade to Egypt and Indonesia, a ban on the sheep trade to Egypt, an end to the private sale and slaughter of Australian animals in the Middle East and significant reforms to the entire live trade.

Lyn's 2006 investigation in Egypt, which documented cattle having their tendons slashed and eyes stabbed at Cairo's notorious Bassateen abattoir and sheep being trussed and transported on roof racks, resulted in the Federal government suspending the live cattle trade and banning the live sheep trade to that country. Lyn's investigation was the subject of a feature article in Australia's most respected publication The Bulletin.

Lyn's work has resulted in unprecedented animal welfare

Claudia Cavallo
Claudia Cavallo6 years ago

This situation is just terrible, how can sensibloe animals treated like objects? SHippede like boxes all over the world, terrible even to imagine what they are going through

Gloria H.
Gloria Hackwith6 years ago

Live exports need to be stopped. If they can't be humane to all the animals then they have no business in exporting.

Colleen Prinssen
Colleen Prinssen6 years ago

if they were to ship the camel back to where they came from, and not kill them (I do not believe Australlia need wild camel. bite me)
it would be a nice journey, or would there be a cry to end it?

what if the sheep had a nicer journey? would it still be a horrid idea?

Sheri D.
Sheri D6 years ago

Petition signed. Thanks for this information. I was not aware of any of this. This is horrible! Poor sheet!

Celine P.
CĂ©line P6 years ago

Petition signed!

Andrew C.
Andrew C6 years ago

Petition signed. Live exports need to be banned!