A large number of Australian sheep seen at PK Livestock and Meat Company Warehouse in Razzaqabad Karachi on Saturday, September 15, 2012.Approximately 21,000 sheep that arrived from Australia to Pakistan earlier this week are
allegedly victims of scabby mouth disease.— Photo by PPI

KARACHI: Sindh government officials decided on Sunday to cull more than 21,000 imported Australian sheep and the process of killing the animals and burying them started late in the night in Razzakabad area amid tight security. The government took the decision after reports from a second laboratory also confirmed that the animals were diseased.

The culling began in the presence of livestock and local government officials. “We have culled about 150 sheep so far. The step has been taken after the animals were found suffering from highly contagious diseases. Infections could spread in our environment if the animals were allowed to live,” Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, representing the livestock department at the site near the private farm in Razzakabad where the animals had been kept, said.

The animals, he said, were being buried in a 15-foot deep ditch after being slaughtered.

Referring to the latest report submitted by the Tandojam Central Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, provincial Livestock and Fisheries Secretary Syed Abid Ali Shah said it showed that the sheep had got foot-and-mouth disease, besides having bacterial infection as had earlier been indicated in a lab report by the Sindh Poultry Vaccine Centre.

“There is no option left but to cull all animals in public interest because two laboratory reports have confirmed that they are diseased. Preparations are under way for the culling that will begin soon,” he said, adding that the remains would be buried deep at the same place.

Citing international reports, Mr Shah said the animals were also infected with an exotic (parapox) virus which caused orf disease.

“That means these animals are a grave risk to public health because we don’t have this virus in our environment right now, nor the lab facilities required to detect it.

“The spread of new viruses is a major health hazard across the world which is why developed countries have stringent rules and regulations to protect their environment,” he said.

Replying to a question about a report from an Islamabad laboratory which reportedly is negative, he said: “The reports of our laboratories are important since we are the ones who are going to face the health and environmental consequences if these animals are allowed to be slaughtered and consumed.

“Besides, the whole world has seen that the sheep were rejected in Bahrain.”

Regarding action against the quarantine department officials who had provisionally allowed release of the animals without carrying out proper checks in a government quarantine, he said the department functioned under the federal government and was not ‘under his jurisdiction’.

“In fact, it doesn’t fall in our responsibilities to check imported animals. It is the domain of the federal government.

“The provincial department had to intervene on reports that the animals are diseased,” he explained.

He said the federal department officials had declared the private farm a temporary quarantine probably because the place at their disposal could not accommodate such a large number of animals.

According to Mr Shah, the quarantine department had been told that the animals were diseased and needed to be culled immediately.

“The decision is a big step taken by the government,” the official said.

The Sindh Poultry Vaccine Centre’s tests had found presence of salmonella and actinomyces bacteria in 100 per cent samples from the Merino sheep. Of the samples, 44 per cent tested positive for E. coli.

According to the centre’s report, the oral swabs were found positive for highly contagious actinomyces which is responsible for causing lumpy jaw disease in sheep.

E. coli and salmonella bacteria may cause food poisoning and dysentery in humans if meat of infected animals is consumed.

The sheep were recently offloaded with the approval of the Port Qasim Authority.

Parts of the same consignment, of about 35,000 sheep, were also delivered to Qatar and Oman.

The authorities in Bahrain rejected the shipment from the Wellard Rural Exports on account of the animals’ sickness.

According to media reports, the consignment was brought to Karachi instead of being taken back to Australia.

It was bought here by a meat company and the sheep were being kept at its farms in Razzakabad area of Malir with other animals meant for slaughter.