Our Burning Planet


Eastern Cape feedlot manager arrested after mutilating 126 export rams with angle grinder

Eastern Cape feedlot manager arrested after mutilating 126 export rams with angle grinder
Sheep being loaded on to a converted cart carrier owned by Kuwati compant Al Mawashi. (Photo: Supplied)

In an attempt to comply with regulations preventing sheep with long horns from being shipped to the Persian Gulf, an Eastern Cape feedlot manager sliced into their nerves and blood vessels with an angle grinder.

According to guidelines for the export of animals by sea, horns that are “sharp or protrude beyond the widest part of the animal” may not be exported. 

A feedlot manager in Berlin (Ntabozuko) near East London, working for the Kuwaiti company Al Mawashi, decided to solve the problem by cutting off the horns of 126 rams with an angle grinder after NSPCA inspectors left, painfully exposing nerves, blood vessels and soft tissue. 

The next morning, NSPCA chief inspector Nazareth Appalsamy found blood flowing out of the feedlot and rams’ coats bloodied from the wounds. When he demanded to know why the horns were cut overnight, the manager allegedly told him: “Because you were not there … you would have obstructed us.” 

Appalsamy called the police who arrested the manager. His actions were flagged as a violation of the Animals Protection Act, which deems it an offence to cruelly torture or maim any animal.

Sheep transporter Al Messilah docked at East London. (Photo: Supplied)

The rams were part of a shipment to Kuwait on a converted car carrier, the ageing Al Messilah, and scheduled for live slaughter. They were confiscated by the NSPCA and moved to a place of safety where they were provided with veterinary treatment. The animals will be securely housed pending the outcome of the investigation. The date of the court case against the manager has not yet been set. 

“What the manager did is called tipping – taking off a horn in the area where there is no sensation,” said Appalsamy. “But when he did that, the rams’ horns were still too wide. 

“We left for the day and when we returned early the next morning we made a shocking discovery: rams soaked in blood. It looked like bone marrow had been exposed.

“We found a 25kg bag of horns which we wanted to seize as evidence. But the Al Mawashi guys loaded it onto a truck and sped off. We gave chase and retrieved it. 

“We had the feedlot manager arrested for defeating the ends of justice, contempt of court for ignoring our warrant, and animal cruelty. He was charged but is not in custody, unfortunately.”

Horn cut to the marrow by an angle grinder at Al Mawashi feedlot in Berlin, Eastern Cape. (Photo: Supplied)

Horn cut to the marrow by an angle grinder at Al Mawashi feedlot in Berlin, Eastern Cape. (Photo: Supplied)

Following the crude dehorning, the animals would not anyhow have been allowed to be shipped. The mutilation left the rams ineligible for export in terms of the guidelines, which prohibit the loading of any animal with “unhealed wounds”.

After the rams were confiscated, Al Mawashi continued with the loading of 39,000 sheep, 300 cattle and 43 goats on to the Al Messilah in East London.

“They used to load livestock from Australia but the government banned it on the grounds of cruelty,” said Appalsamy, “so they have targeted South Africa with its poor economic status and weak regulatory environment.

“They’re transporting these animals north at the hottest time of year, where temperatures exceed 50oC. There are going to be high mortalities.”

Marcelle Meredith, executive director of the NSPCA, said: “If it were not for our inspectors, these rams would have been loaded onto the ship to endure further pain in appalling conditions.

“Surely it is time for the government, red meat industry and organised agriculture to do the right thing – to show some compassion and afford these animals, their livelihood, the basic right of freedom from suffering. It is within their power to do the right thing.”

Al Mawashi sheep penned for export. (Photo: Supplied)

There has been ongoing opposition to the transport of live animals to the Middle East.  

In 2022, the NSPCA succeeded in stopping the proposed shipment of between 55,000 and 85,000 live sheep to Kuwait, claiming that 21 days at sea in baking heat constituted animal cruelty.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Alarm bells ring after 15,000 sheep drown as transport ship capsizes in Port of Sudan

At the time, Humane Society International/Africa’s executive director, Tony Gerrans, said the conditions experienced by animals during long-distance sea voyages contravened many provisions of South Africa’s Animals Protection Act. 

“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. 

“They are 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. 

“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.”

The volume of live animal shipments to the Middle East from the Eastern Cape was disclosed following an access to information request to the province’s department of rural development and agrarian reform. 

A single company– Al Mawashi – using old, converted ships not suitable for animal transport, shipped 56,002 animals out of the area in 2019, 108,923 in 2020 and 57,838 in 2021. 

Later numbers were not available. 

It is not known how many survived any of these journeys because, according to the department, “the exporting company [is] custodian of this information”.

The company is Australia’s largest buyer of live sheep. It has stated that it has a capacity for 600,000 sheep a year and has been sourcing sheep in Somalia and Romania. In 2018, it constructed the Berlin feedlot. 

It has met with challenges in various countries where exports were halted due to animal welfare concerns. These included a lack of oversight of animals in transit and at their destination, poor conditions during transportation and inhumane slaughter on arrival. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Live animal export is a violation of animal welfare and human rights and could lead to our next pandemic

In 2021, the NSPCA obtained an interim court interdict under the Animals Protection Act to prohibit Al Mawashi from loading live sheep onto its vessels in East London, saying that live export by sea was completely unacceptable and unnecessary. 

The interdict was overturned by the Supreme Court and Al Mawashi proceeded with the shipment. DM

Absa OBP

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Steven D says:

    This broke my heart. Those poor animals… Al Mawashi should be made to pay a R1m fine to the NSPCA.

  • Sven Coles says:

    This is disgusting. Live animal exports should be banned as it has been in most civilised countries. If people want to slaughter and eat sheep and other animals they should be willing to rear them. Where is the Dept of Environmental Affairs in all this?

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