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Australia Gives Eritrea Sheep It Couldn't Sell

October 25, 2003|From Times Wire Services

MASSAWA, Eritrea — Eritrea agreed Friday to accept as a gift 52,000 Australian sheep that had been stranded at sea for almost three months, rejected by dozens of countries because of a disease, the two nations announced.

The first of the sheep were herded ashore at this Red Sea port in northeast Africa by workers who covered their noses because of the odor from the ship, where more than 5,000 sheep had died during the voyage.

Australia has agreed to supply more than 3,000 metric tons of feed and $700,000 to fund the unloading, transport, holding and slaughter of the sheep, said Eritrean Agriculture Minister Arefaine Berhe and his Australian counterpart, Warren Truss.

The sheep were sent in early August from Western Australia to Saudi Arabia but were turned away by Saudi officials who said that too many of them had scabby mouth disease.

The sheep's plight has sparked a storm of protest from animal rights activists around the world and threatened to jeopardize Australia's multimillion-dollar live animal exports.

The fracas prodded Canberra to buy the sheep last month from the original buyer, a Saudi importer, for $3.1 million and attempt to find a country that would take them.

Truss said it was satisfying to have found a destination for the sheep in the Middle East. The entire cargo had been offered free to 57 other countries, all of which rejected them.

The animals were on their way back to the Cocos Islands, a remote Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, when Eritrea agreed to accept them.

Australia exports $136.5 million worth of live animals each year, mostly to countries that require livestock slaughtered according to Islamic standards.

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