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
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
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
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.