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Pregnant cattle die on ship

News Section Icon Published 10/08/2012

In yet another example of the problems inherent in the live export trade, 400 pregnant cattle have died aboard a ship taking them from the USA to Russia.

The deaths are another reminder of the all-too-regular problems with long distance live animal transport that are part and parcel of the trade.

Our investigators believe the cows died aboard the ship the Pearl of Para, which made the news in Gibraltar on 29 July when it moored close to shore to take on fuel and the stench from the ship made the area smell "like a zoo" according to local reports.

Initial accounts of the incident suggest that the animals, who were among 3,900 being taken to the port of Novorossiysk, may have suffocated on ammonia fumes due to a breakdown in manure removal and ventilation systems with no back-up system in place.

Whatever the full truth is, the simple fact is the welfare of animals on journeys of such huge distances just cannot be guaranteed.

A familiar story

With the sheer number of shipments of live animals across the globe every day, it is impossible to know the number of them who die in transit but it is certain to be higher than the incidents we hear of.

The news about the Pearl of Para comes after up to 2,500 cattle died on the Gracia del Mar this spring as it travelled from Brazil to Egypt.

While the cattle on the Gracia del Mar were for fattening and those on the Pearl of Para are likely to have been used for breeding, the fundamentals are the same - animals should not be made to endure such long journeys. Even without the mass deaths that come to our attention, the trade inflicts suffering on millions of farm animals every year.

The EU's Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare concluded in 2002: 'with increasing duration of journey, the welfare of animals generally gets worse' and 'after a few hours of transport welfare tends to become poorer as journey length increases.'

Who is responsible?

The Russian authorities have launched an investigation into what happened on board the Pearl of Para and whether it was indeed asphyxiation that killed the animals. Compassion will be watching their pronouncements closely to find out who is to blame for these deaths and what is being done to assure this does not happen again.

In the US Compassion, along with the Animal Welfare Institute, is calling on the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to investigate the incident.

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