‘We could smell the boat approaching’: The Grim Truth About Animal Exports

Dec 11, 2018 | Live Transport

‘We could smell the boat approaching’: The Grim Truth About Animal Exports

Dec 11, 2018 | Live Transport

Story and images by Jo-Anne McArthur. Reporting for The Guardian Newspaper, June 2018. 

Broken bones and other injuries are common for sheep and cattle held on ships for weeks in cramped pens.   tracked the 22,000 arrivals on one boat in Israel’s Haifa port.

The Bahijah, carrying an estimated 22,000 animals from Australia to Egypt.

Hundreds of thousands of live animals are transported each year on ships from Australia and Europe to the Middle East. The route from Australia to Israel is particularly long – the journey is three weeks at sea, where cattle and sheep are often kept in cramped pens for the duration.

It’s estimated this year Israel will import 114,040 animals (cattle and sheep) from Australia, and 409,123 sheep and 169,991 cattle from Europe. Though these figures are lower than the previous year, in general live imports have been on the rise. Israel is expected to import 700,000 live animals this year – up from 200,000 in 2012.

In July, I went to Israel to photograph the Australian ships coming into port in Haifa. One of the boats, the Bahijah, was carrying an estimated 22,000 animals.

I spent a week monitoring the ships at port, waiting for news of one of the live imports. When we heard the Bahijah was coming in, we managed to rent a yacht that morning and meet the ship at sea. I was able to photograph the ship and the animals from a distance.

The Bahijah, carrying an estimated 22,000 animals from Australia to Egypt.

The ship completely dwarfed us. I was struck by the smell. Even from further away we could smell the boat approaching. At almost every window you could see animals crowded together. The ones at the windows are lucky because they’re getting fresh air.

The animals are not used to the movement of the sea. In some instances they suffer injuries and broken bones as a result. In April, a whistleblower employed on a live export ship worked with Animals Australia to reveal the situation on board a vessel. Footage from five shipments from Australia to the Middle East showed sheep covered in faeces, and severely decomposed bodies left in pens with living sheep. In one particular journey, more than 880 animals died during the course of the voyage.

The story doesn’t end when the ships arrive at port.

From here, the animals are unloaded on to trucks. This can take up to 12 and even 16 hours because there are thousands of animals on board.

The cattle and sheep are then transported cross-country. I trailed trucks for hours to feedlots near Eilat, and to quarantine in a settlement in the West Bank. The feedlots were dusty and crowded. The animals in quarantine were lethargic.

Cattle on trucks leaving the Bahijah.
Dead farm animals are routinely washing up on Tel Avivian public beaches. Due to the distressing conditions animals are in, many don’t survive the journey at sea and it’s believed their corpses are just thrown overboard. The washed-up animals often have the ears or heads missing, so their ear tags can’t be traced to identify the ships.

Dead farm animals are routinely washing up on Tel Avivian public beaches. Due to the distressing conditions animals are in, many don’t survive the journey at sea and it’s believed their corpses are just thrown overboard. The washed-up animals often have the ears or heads missing, so their ear tags can’t be traced to identify the ships.

The dead and dying in feedlots are also often disposed in the desert. I witnessed football field-sized parcels of land with mounds of manure and decomposing animal bodies that must have been there for decades. The images can’t convey the stench, or the flies.
Tags and skeletons at a quarantine dump site in Israel.
Above and Below: cattle in quarantine in the West Bank; Right Top and Bottom: cattle at an Israeli feedlot.
Cattle in quarantine in the West Bank.
Cattle at an Israeli feedlot.
The future of the controversial live imports trade is uncertain. A bill has been proposed in the Israeli Knesset to phase out live imports of animals from Australia and Europe for slaughter because of the suffering it causes the animals. The bill would reduce the transportation of live animals while increasing tax-free imports of fresh meat, and encourage local production.
Story and images by Jo-Anne McArthur. Reporting for The Guardian Newspaper, December 2018.  
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