Horror journeys for Australian cattle sent to China & Philippines

Animals Australia

Animals Australia team

Last updated 8 April 2015

Government reports have revealed nightmare conditions on two live export voyages, resulting in the extreme suffering and deaths of over 100 animals, including pregnant dairy cows.

These recently released ‘high mortality incident’ reports paint a very grim picture of the daily reality for animals during live export to China and the Philippines last year, and once again highlight the inherent risks faced by animals at sea.

Pregnant dairy cows suffer on trip to China

The three week journey to China is arduous at the ‘best’ of times, but the ordeal for hundreds of dairy cows loaded onto a live export ship in Portland last year began on day one, when a storm hit. As tumultuous seas assaulted the vessel, rocking it back and forth, animals would have struggled to gain sure footing. Many who fell could not get up, and were killed where they lay.

"Rough seas during the first day of the voyage caused injuries, resulting in euthanasia of many of the injured animals."
- Department of Agriculture, ‘Mortality Investigation Report 52′

With rough weather continuing throughout the voyage, many of these young cows suffered ‘sore feet’, a euphemistic term for when the hoof wears away so badly that sensitive nerve endings are exposed. Others were forced to stand on ulcered legs, their limbs roped together to stop them from ‘splaying’.

Dairy cows are hidden victims of the live export trade. Often shipped while pregnant, these ‘breeder’ animals are completely unprotected by live export regulations. Every year, Australian exporters deliver thousands of these vulnerable cows to countries with often appalling track records of animal cruelty.

Their arrival in China was no cause for relief. 18 of the injured animals who were treated and kept alive until the end of the voyage were in such bad shape they were rejected at the port, and killed. The final death toll was 49.

What happened to the survivors is a matter of grim speculation, as Australian exporters have no legal responsibility to ensure the welfare of ‘breeder’ animals — these cows were left to an unknown fate in a country with no animal protection laws.

Pregnant Australian dairy cows exported to Qatar in 2012.

Misdiagnosed epidemic leaves 53 dead en route to the Philippines

On another export ship, three days out of port on its way to the Philippines, two Australian cows were found dead. The next day, four were dead. On every morning of this nightmare 10 day voyage, animals were found dead. The total onboard death toll during this ‘quick trip’ to the Philippines was 53.

"The mortalities began on the third day and continued to occur throughout the voyage…"
- Department of Agriculture, ‘Mortality Investigation Report 54′

These suffering animals were denied direct professional veterinary treatment, because the Australian Government does not require a vet to be on board for such a ‘short’ shipping route. But short doesn’t mean easy, and when cows, steers and bulls fell ill in quick succession, the wrong call was made. They were treated for one disease, but they were dying of another.

Tests later found that these animals were sick with Bovine Respiratory Disease — also called pneumonia. They would have lost their appetite, likely suffering fever, painful joints and muscles, and eventually struggling to breathe. All while confined to an unfamiliar environment on board a live export ship, which for many was the last place they ever knew.

Some trips should never be taken

The live export industry accepts as a cost of doing business that thousands of Australian animals will die on its ships each year. Even for those animals who survive to reach their destination, these arduous long sea journeys are dangerous and inherently stressful.

Click through the gallery below for photos of the conditions onboard some live export vessels — as highlighted by a former onboard veterinarian in a submission to the government. (Please note: some images are distressing.)

Tragically, the animals who die at sea could be considered the ‘lucky’ ones, with investigations revealing the brutal handling and slaughter that Australian animals can be subjected to in importing countries.

An end to live export cruelty

At every stage of the journey, live export is a crime against animals. That’s why we’ve launched the biggest public awareness campaign Australia has ever seen, branding it just that.

Take action! Add your voice to calls for an end to live export cruelty: