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The release of the Government’s observer report from the recent Al Kuwait shipment has today confirmed that thousands of Australian sheep were exposed to excessive heat and humidity, and suffered heat stress consistent with predictions. 

The controversial decision to grant an exemption to the Northern Summer live export ban, allowed approximately 33,341 sheep to be shipped to Kuwait at the most dangerous time of the year against the strong advice of the RSPCA, the Australian Veterinary Association, and the Department’s initial decision rejecting the exporter’s exemption application.

The Government observer report notes that all sheep suffered heat stress with approximately 1,000 suffering the highest heat stress score of 4, involving open-mouth panting with tongues protruding, while approximately 4,000 experienced heat stress score of 3, involving open-mouth panting.

As forecast by the extensive scientific evidence, on-board data loggers confirmed the sheep suffered multiple days of temperatures and humidity far exceeding their heat stress thresholds.

The data also showed there was no respite for the animals overnight, with the hottest temperatures being recorded during the night of 30 June to the early hours of 1 July.

RSPCA Australia Senior Policy Officer Dr Jed Goodfellow described the report as damning.

“The temperatures recorded on this voyage are an indictment of the Department of Agriculture’s failure to uphold its own regulations and listen to the expert advice,” he said.

“Every one of the 33,341 sheep on board the Al Kuwait have suffered unnecessarily because the Department caved into pressure and backflipped on its initial evidence-based decision.

“Describing this voyage as a 'success' because relatively fewer sheep than usual actually died on board shows the industry is still clinging to outdated and inaccurate measures of animal welfare, something the 2018 McCarthy Review strongly warned against. 

“Mortality rates don’t account for the tens of thousands of sheep that suffer terribly but survive. And these reports confirm that’s exactly what’s happened here.

“The findings confirm that even under significantly reduced stocking densities, reduced wool length, and additional selection criteria – all of which reportedly cost the exporter over $120 per head – sheep will still experience prolonged heat stress when sent into climatic conditions that exceed their ability to thermoregulate and shed heat.

“The data show precisely why the Northern Summer ban was introduced and why exemptions of this nature should never be granted again,” said Dr Goodfellow.


IMAGE BELOW shows Wet Bulb Temperature* data from data loggers on different decks of the Al Kuwait showing temperatures exceeding the Heat Stress Threshold of the sheep. The LiveCorp/MLA Veterinary Handbook for Cattle & Sheep defines 29°C+ WBTs as the "danger zone" for sheep.

* Wet Bulb Temperature is the temperature measured “with a normal thermometer that has a damp cloth covering the bulb. It is always lower than the usual or "dry-bulb" temperature; how much lower depends on the humidity. At 100% humidity (in a cloud or fog) they match. In Sydney and Melbourne, even during the hottest weather, the wet-bulb usually peaks in the low 20s C. The highest values in the world are about 30-31C, during the worst heat/humidity events in India, the Amazon, and a few other very humid places (reference).” 

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