Two tragedies just happened in Romania and Australia that have left this hardened war correspondent shaken and horrified.
An old tub of a cargo ship named the Queen Hind (likely Indian-owned but convenience flagged), packed with 14,600 live sheep, capsized at its dock on Romania’s Black Sea coast due to overcrowding and improper load balancing. At least 14,000 of the terrified sheep drowned in the icy waters and darkness of the overturned death ship. Imagine their plight.
Maybe the dead were the lucky ones: the sheep were consigned for Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s leading importers of live animals. The Saudis like their lamb freshly killed. So instead of importing frozen lamb from Australia and New Zealand, where it is supposed to be humanely slaughtered, the wretched animals endure weeks at sea in ship’s holds, in searing heat and terror, often with no food or water.
When the animals arrive in Arabia, they are herded into pens, have their necks cut or sawed and bleed to death. Other Mideastern animal importers are no less cruel. Israel is a bit better. I am helping a sanctuary there for discarded, worn out donkeys and horses.
Some time ago, a cargo ship filled with sheep from Australia was marooned off Saudi Arabia when its importer went bankrupt. Thousands of animals slowly died from intense heat and lack of water or food.
Rescue teams, including the splendid Four Paws of Vienna, Austria, are now trying to extract the dead and dying sheep from the Queen Hind. There is even debate now over whether to send the few score survivors to be killed in Saudi Arabia or put to pasture on a government farm in Romania to live out their lives.
Off in faraway eastern Australia, fierce bush fires have burned their way through vast areas inhabited by kangaroos, wombats, koala bears and many other animal and avian species. We rarely see the victims of these fast-moving fires, either in Australia, North or South America where baby animals and little birds can’t escape the onrushing infernos.
As a raging bush fire burned up the landscape, a lovely lady named Toni Doherty was driving when she heard screams and cries. She saw a little koala bear trapped in a burning field, its fur on fire. She jumped from her car, ran into the fire, grabbed the crying little koala, wrapped it in her shirt and escaped to her car.
The 14-year old koala was taken to the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital and treated for severe burns all over his body. After a hard struggle to save the little fellow, the medical staff there decided he could not be spared further agony and ended his life. Another 350 little koalas are estimated to have died. There is no estimate yet of wombat, kangaroo, anteater, or bird deaths.
Koalas are a national symbol of Australia. These adorable little animals are friendly, gentle vegetarians who like to live in trees and munch eucalyptus leaves. There may only be some 250,000 left. A few more annual bush fires and they risk becoming extinct. We need to protect our koalas, wombats and kangaroos. They are part of our earth and our humanity.
What we learn from this week of fire horror is that Australia must set up fire-proof shelters with ponds of water for their endangered animals. Getting stubborn koalas to use them is another story, but it’s still better than leaving these national treasures to the flames.
The UN and civilized nations must ban transport of all live animals for eventual slaughter. It’s a crime, no question, our modern version of slave ships. The same applies to trucking live animals to death factories.
I was involved last year in the case of an honorable woman who was arrested in Canada for giving water to thirsty, terrified pigs being trucked to slaughter in Toronto. Animals being sent to their deaths are given no food, water or, in the depth of winter, heat.
It’s time to end this barbarous behavior on land and sea. Animals have the same senses of fear, pain, family bonds and hunger or thirst as we do. The huge animal industry insists, contrary to all evidence, that animals are insensate objects. It’s time for us to set the animals free and accord them their natural rights.