No pleasure cruise: Australian cattle facing month-long sea journey to Russia

Cruelty to Australian animals exported live has become a tragically commonplace revelation in recent years. But what about the journey these animals endure to reach far-flung countries in the first place?

LAST UPDATED: 19 January 2018

A trip to Europe is on the wish list of many Australians. The 24 hours of tiring travel and jet lag are willingly endured, knowing that wonderful experiences await on arrival. 

Black cattle

The same can't be said for the 35,000 Australian cattle who have just commenced their month-long journey by sea from South Australia to Russia – only to arrive half a world away to be 'fattened' and slaughtered. 

The 16,000 km shipboard journey for these animals will take them across the Indian Ocean, up the Gulf of Aden, into the Red Sea, through the Suez Canal, across the Mediterranean Sea, and into the Black Sea. 

Every day for the length of this journey they will be confined to pens, with the ship engine vibrating beneath them as it motors over the open sea. Heading into the start of the harsh Middle Eastern summer, they face exposure to huge variance in temperature and conditions. All the while, they will be unable to move freely, and the unforgiving floor surfaces pose the risk of pressure wounds and injuries. The spectre of pneumonia will also hang over them — research has found that this infection (also called Bovine Respiratory Disease) is a leading cause of death on long haul cattle voyages.

In a submission to a 2012 government review, a former live export veterinarian highlighted the ever-present impacts on cattle subjected to long sea journeys like this one.

The submission noted examples of typical stocking densities so high that animals don't have enough room to lie down at the same time. In their desperation to rest, they try to lie down regardless and can be trampled and injured by others. Smothering is not uncommon.

Over the length of a journey, a 'faecal pad' develops beneath the animals. The submission shows images of cattle coated in excrement – which can flow from upper decks and also contaminate food and water supplies — and suffering lameness due to hoof and leg injuries from hard and abrasive decking. Some cattle become unable to even stand, as their legs swell and pain from open wounds prevent them getting up.

Click through the gallery below for photos from the submission.

Cattle onboard in stocking density too high for all to lie down at once


An image of 'typical stocking density' from the submission, with animals unable to lie down at the same time.

Shipboard conditions are a far cry from the environment the handsome Black Angus cattle on their way to Russia would have been accustomed to in Australia. Raised outdoors, with room to move and express natural behaviours like grazing – for them, the days and weeks aboard a live export ship will present a very different and unpleasant experience.

As a more 'valuable' breed of cattle than many of the animals exported live from Australia, they may be afforded some 'comforts' — like enough room to lie down. But their story illustrates the reality that, even in the very 'best' of live export journeys, cattle are forced to endure the stress and discomfort of being kept in an environment completely foreign to them.

Even more disturbingly, the company arranging this shipment of cattle is Livestock Shipping Services – the very same company under investigation for serious breaches of live export regulations in multiple markets.

Sending these animals on such a long sea voyage — the first time any live Australian cattle have been sent to Russia for slaughter – in light of these clear welfare concerns puts animals at risk. It exposes yet again the ugly truth that live export is, at its heart, about choosing profit over the wellbeing of animals.

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