Live Export Sheep Swims to Freedom

July 2, 2012 (Animals Australia)

In the calm waters of Eilat Bay in Israel, an unusual white figure was seen bobbing in the cold water. Was it a boat? A pelican? No. It was an Australian sheep, swimming for his life.

Sahar, as he became known, had jumped from the nearby pier where a live export ship was unloading. He was beyond exhausted, and struggling to stay afloat. His fleece was waterlogged, and his thin legs — never intended for swimming — were paddling fast but failing to keep his head above water.

Were it not for the decisive actions of a 14 year old boy who jumped into the water and raised the alarm, Sahar’s life may have ended then and there. But instead, a remarkable rescue operation ensued.

The image of a 50 kilogram sheep swimming off the coast of Israel might seem like an odd sight. But in reality, thousands of Australian sheep pass these waters every year. Sahar was just one of tens of thousands of stressed and bewildered sheep packed onto a live export ship in Australia, bound for slaughter in the Middle East. Not all of Sahar’s companions survived the journey. Some died of starvation, unable to adjust to the unfamiliar pellet feed on board. For those sheep who disembarked in Israel, an even grimmer fate awaited: truck journeys to final destinations and a knife cut to the throat while fully conscious, before bleeding to death on the floor of an Israeli slaughterhouse.

Tragically, such routine and brutal slaughter practices are accepted by Australia’s live export industry without question. Yet it was clear to those who met Sahar that he deserved better. “Our thought was that the sheep deserved freedom, that it would be unfair to lead him to slaughter.” said one of Sahar’s rescuers.

The rescue team was forced to fight for Sahar’s life a second time when the sheep importer learned of the rescue and demanded that Sahar be slaughtered along with his shipmates. Fortunately Sahar’s rescuers were able to persuade the importer to surrender the sheep into their care.

After veterinary checks and a lot of TLC, Sahar regained his strength and was given sanctuary at a nearby Kibbutz. His gentle nature made him a favourite among the local children, who affectionately describe Sahar as a ‘celebrity’!

Sahar’s extraordinary story is one in a million. Yet he was no more deserving of compassion than the thousands of individual animals who began his journey with him. While we cannot save animals who have already met a cruel fate, we can save others from similar suffering.

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