South Africa’s campaigners fight to stop cruel shipment of up to 85,000 sheep to Middle East

Humane Society International calls on South Africans to add their voice to prevent shipment

Humane Society International / South Africa

Maura Flaherty, HSUS

CAPE TOWN—As the National Council of SPCAs prepares for a third court hearing on 6th August to stop the proposed shipment of between 55,000 and 85,000 live sheep to the Middle East, Humane Society International/Africa is urging South African citizens to add their voices of support in ending the cruelty of live exports.

Tony Gerrans, HSI/Africa’s executive director, says: “The conditions experienced by animals during long-distance sea voyages contravene many provisions of South Africa’s Animal Protection Act 71 of 1962. Transporting tens of thousands of sentient animals on a vessel means they endure 21 days of being packed together in pens without proper food and care, standing in their own excrement, breathing in ammonia which can lead to respiratory problems, exposed to the perpetual noise of the ship’s motors and to heat stress which can be so extreme as to kill the animals, much like leaving a dog in a car on a hot day. In 2016, some 3,000 sheep died en route from Freemantle to Doha onboard the same ship – the Al Messilah – that was waiting in East London’s port to load South African sheep. Such treatment is clearly inhumane, and so we fully support the NSPCA asking the High Court to declare it unlawful.

“Cruelty to animals erodes our most fundamental values and undermines our humanity. It should never be tolerated in the pursuit of profits, and the law is clear on this. With up to 85,000 animals on board, the crew members cannot ensure adequate welfare oversight of individual animals on a regular basis – especially those at the back of the pens. And indeed NSPCA inspectors have reported distress, injury and suffering during loading for previous voyages. It is clear that if this shipment is allowed to go ahead, we will intentionally be placing these sensitive animals in an environment where welfare standards are far lower than those we would ever allow in South Africa.”

The shipment presents multiple welfare concerns:

  • For 21 days sheep are confined in pens on multiple decks, standing on hard steel floors unsuitable for hooved animals accustomed to standing on soil.
  • The faeces and urine of thousands of sheep are not cleaned for the entire journey, forcing the animals to stand in their own and others’ excrement, which can lead to infection.
  • Sheep are fed pellets that can result in digestive issues for ruminant animals used to eating grass.
  • Some animals struggle to reach the automated food and water troughs, which can become contaminated with excrement.
  • Some animals suffer respiratory complaints from the concentration of ammonia and other gases below deck.
  • Sheep are exposed to constant noise from the ship’s motors and ventilation system, as well as constant light – despite their need for darkness in order to sleep.
  • Overcrowding poses risks to any sheep who were loaded with an undetected pregnancy or injury, going without proper observation or veterinary care. Newborn lambs and weaker animals are often trampled and crushed.
  • Heat stress is a serious risk for sheep because they have difficulty thermoregulating when the humidity and temperature are both high, particularly when they are caked in their own faeces – what the live shipment industry calls a ‘faecal jacket’.

Live sheep export by sea from Australia to Kuwait was banned in 2019 over the Northern Hemisphere’s summer months, following mass mortalities on board during some of these voyages and studies of heat stress in the sheep making this journey. Other countries such as New Zealand, which is highly dependent on animal agriculture, have banned the live export of animals for slaughter entirely.

Recognising the welfare challenges inherent in this practice, some countries require independent veterinary oversight on board. This is not the case with South Africa, where there are no regulations governing live transport by sea.

HSI/Africa is calling on all South Africans to add their voices to prevent the shipment of live sheep:

  • Write to the Department of Rural Development & Agrarian Reform (Veterinary Services) Eastern Cape, urging the department not to allow the export of these sheep on the Al Messilah.
    Dr Vusi Rozani,
  • Call on the National Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development to pass regulations that prohibit the live export of all animals by sea.
    Minister Thoko Didiza,
  • Tell the Red Meat Industry Forum to support a total ban on the cruel export of animals by sea. Amish Kika,


Media contact: Marisol Gutierrez, HSI/Africa Media and Communications Manager,, +27 72 358 9531


*South Africa’s Animal Protection Act 71 of 1962:

2(1) Any person who –
… (m) conveys, carries, confines, restrains or tethers any animal-

(i) under such conditions or in such a manner or position or for such a period or time or over such a distance as to cause that animal unnecessary suffering; or
(ii) in conditions affording inadequate shelter, light or ventilation or in which such animal is excessively exposed to heat, cold, weather, sun, rain, dust, exhaust gases or noxious fumes;  or
(iii) without making adequate provision for food, potable water and rest for such animals in circumstances where it is necessary … subject to the provisions of this Act and any other law, be guilty of an offence…

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