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SOS Rhino : In the News : Archived News : November 2000 : Zoo animals in 40-day ordeal on 'Noah's Ark'

Zoo animals in 40-day ordeal on 'Noah's Ark'

By Michael Dynes in Johannesburg and Giles Tremlett in Madrid
The Times (London)
November 3, 2000

MADRID, Spain - A wildlife shipment of three rhino and 24 giraffe is on its way back to South Africa from Spain after spending 40 days and 40 nights "marooned on the high seas" like a modern-day Noah's Ark.

The animals, destined for zoos across Spain, were denied permission to dock at Valencia because of fears that they could be infected with foot-and-mouth disease.

Christine Kuch, an inspector with South Africa's National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA), said yesterday that the rhino and giraffe were due to arrive back home next week, having spent almost a month and a half circling the African continent. "These are wild creatures that are used to roaming across the veld, and they will have been boxed up for over a month in filthy, smelly conditions," she said. "These shipments are a dirty business. Greed and profit are obviously being put before animal welfare and commonsense."

The shipment left Durban on board the container ship Paraguay last month, shortly after South Africa's worst outbreak of the foot-and-mouth disease in nearly 50 years and despite a ban on the export of all cloven-hoofed animals.

Exports of wild animals are normally quite legal, providing that the shipments do not contravene the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species.

There is no export ban on giraffe, but rhino require permits. The animals were transported in custom-built wooden boxes by Global Wildlife Logistics, a Ladysmith-based company which specialises in shipping wildlife to zoos and game reserves. The rhino are hemmed in so that they cannot move; the giraffe are given room to turn around.

After rounding the Cape of Good Hope, the Paraguay set off up the West African coast for the two-week journey to Spain where the animals were destined for zoos in Madrid, Santander and Alicante. By the time it reached Dakar in Senegal, the ship's captain received a fax from the Spanish authorities warning him that the animals would not be given clearance.

Madrid had threatened to destroy the animals if they landed in Spain. The Paraguay was forced to remain off the Spanish coast while the captain looked for a port that would allow him to offload the animals for the return trip home. Eventually the ship was diverted to Malta, where the animals were transferred to the Michelle, destined for South Africa.

Felipe Cano, Valencia's maritime captain, said that the animals were considered to be so infectious that the vessel was not allowed to enter Spanish waters.

In addition to fears over foot-and-mouth, blood tests carried out in South Africa and sent to Spain's Agriculture Ministry revealed that the animals were also carriers of "blue tongue" disease.

"The fear was that they would pass the virus, which is transmitted by mosquitoes, on to Spanish livestock," Senor Cano said. Blue tongue is a viral infection which is usually found in sheep and cattle. It causes the animal's tongue to swell, stick out and go blue. The animal eventually dies from hunger because its tongue is so swollen that it cannot eat.

Global Wildlife Logistics, which was not available for comment, has been accused by the Spanish authorities of transporting the animals without proper clearance. "They put the animals on board without waiting to see the results (of the blood tests) and, when these came through, they were already on their way," Senor Cano said.

Rick Allen, the NSPCA's wildlife manager, said that there were grave concerns about the conditions the animals had to endure during such long journeys. "Animals do get seasick," he said. "I doubt if their containers are ever cleaned."

South African veterinary officials mobilised police and part-time soldiers last week in an attempt to ensure there is no movement of dead or live animals in or out of the 30-mile quarantine zone where the disease broke out near the village of Camperdown, near the Durban port.

More than 4,000 cattle, sheep and goats have been slaughtered since the first cases of the disease were reported in September. Officials believe that it originated in pigswill from the Far East. Europe, New Zealand, Singapore, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Malawi, Zambia and Mauritius have banned imports of South African meat and livestock.

Penga, a 45-year-old black rhinoceros, rescued from poachers and living at the Save wildlife reserve in southeast Zimbabwe, died after it was caught in a trap laid by squatters. It was the first to die on private land since a scheme to save the species began eight years ago.



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