In July 2018, photographer Jo-Anne McArthur traveled to the Bulgaria-Turkey border to document the terrible conditions in which animals are transported from all over Europe to Turkey. Jo-Anne was able to further evidence the cruelty of live exports. Her work also provided valuable pieces of evidence of recurring EU legislation and OIE animal welfare standards violations occurring in the process of trading live animals between the EU zone and third countries.
Starting mid-July, the Animal Welfare Foundation (Germany), a member of Eurogroup for Animals, covered the conditions in which more than 4,000 live cattle were transported from Europe to Turkey at the peak of the summer heat. Temperatures inside the trucks reached up to 37Cº . One particular case of a 57 animal load stuck at the border brought attention to the inhumane live export trade. Lacking the proper sanitary documentation, Turkish authorities denied the truck authorization to enter Turkey. At the moment of writing this article, it remains unclear where, when, where, and how will these animals be slaughtered. The animals partially originate from France and Czechia; they are currently owned by a Turkish buyer; are transported by a Croatian trading company; and were destined to be slaughtered in Ankara. For the 13th day today (2 August 2018), the animals have remained stuck at the border with no access to a resting area or adequate feed. Authorities in charge of running control posts have consistently violated their mandate to implement the European legislation on the protection of animals during transport within the EU and in third countries. Despite the heat wave, and the substantiated claims that authorities have consistently failed to implement live animal transport legislation in such extreme weather conditions, some Member States, such as France, have reportedly not suspended the export animals to Turkey.
What motivated you to take part in this mission at the Bulgarian/Turkish borders?
It was the group Eyes on Animals that first alerted me to the alarming situation at the Bulgarian-Turkish border, where animals from all over the EU are trucked for slaughter. Eyes on Animals’ founder Lesley Moffat described the scene to me and I could see that this trek was particularly cruel for animals, especially in the summer heat. I also knew that there weren’t many eyes on this story, internationally, or rather, eyes that would document this problem with professional photo experience. I wanted to go, see for myself, and take really good images that could be used by any and all the groups working on the issue of live transport. Good images are an important part of the puzzle when it comes to effecting change. The more I looked into live transport, the more incensed about it I became. This is why I also travelled to Israel for 9 days, to photograph the ships arriving at various ports, with animals from places like Australia, Portugal and Hungary. From the ports, the animals are then trucked to quarantine, feedlots and to slaughter. When we think of eating animals, there are so many parts of the story that we overlook. Transport is a big one. And so we need engaging photography and film about this aspect of a “food” animal’s journey, so that we can see, learn, care, and change.
Can you describe the conditions of the animals you have portrayed in your photos?
Eyes on Animals did temperature readings inside the trucks and they were always over 30, and often hovering around 35 and 36 degrees. In this heat, the animals pant. The conditions were often crowded and we saw countless cows and steer who could not fully lift their heads. Their spines were sometimes an inch from the roof. The animals were almost always matted with feces. The water supply was often off, dry, or full of straw and feces. Sometimes trucks were stopped on the side of the road, or in “no man’s land” between the borders, for long hours without the fans on. When questioned about it, some truckers would say that the fans drained the truck battery. Some truck floors had sufficient straw while many were covered in wetness and feces. To get good photos, I would have my camera lenses pressed against the truck openings, so I was inevitably always smelling the stench. Sometimes it was so bad that my eyes would burn. A week after returning home, my cameras still stink of ammonia and feces. At the “rest stations” on the Turkish side, most trucks would not offload their animals for rest while they sorted out paperwork, which also sometimes took hours. So the animals would be stuck in the trucks in the heat with no air passing through the way it would while driving. Some truckers offloaded their animals and it was then that we’d see just how thirsty the animals were. They would push and vie for the water troughs that could not fill with water fast enough. As bulls are moved between social groups over and over, they were always proving dominance and trying to establish the hierarchy by mounting other bulls. This caused a lot of stress in the pens, and injuries as well. We saw a lot of bulls falling, sliding and splaying because of the mounting.
In one picture we can see a line of trucks, do you know where they were coming from?
The trucks I saw and documented were from various countries and I could not keep track, though Eyes on Animals did keep track and have those records. Crossing the border were trucks that carried animals from Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia.
What about the poor calf laying on the ground in very bad conditions?
Because pregnant cows are still transported, they sometimes give birth on trucks or at the rest stations or feed lots. This male calf was born in one of those situations. These animals and the calf had been at this particular station for some time because there were problems (as there often are) between the export and import companies. This calf was about 10 days old and nearly dead. The calf was not given care, and the mother had very little milk. Because he is worth virtually no money at this age and at this size, he was not worth an investment of medical care. Eyes on Animals hired a veterinarian to see the calf, who was then given antibiotics and many other medicines to save his life. The vet did indeed save his life. We went back for two subsequent mornings to see if the calf was ok. It was bittersweet for us all. Though we knew the calf had been alleviated of immense pain and suffering, we also knew that the calf’s fate would be uncertain but likely an unhappy one.
If you could summarize live transport in one word, which one would you choose?
I have two words, and they are self-explanatory: Cruel, and Unnecessary.
After having seen all of this, is there something you would like to say to EU Member States Governments and EU Institutions?
The long-distance transport of animals should not exist. Weak welfare regulations are not followed and there is little enforcement of these regulations. There seems to be little to no accountability. Animals who are raised for food already suffer enough. This animal transporting, which is animal trade, should end. Most of the trucks we saw during those 4 days were violating basic welfare standards with lack of space and water, fans off, filthy bedding. The animals in the trucks suffer from heat, dehydration, injuries, and I think it puts us all to shame that we continue to treat animals in this fashion. It’s unnecessary, and it’s cruel.
McArthur encourages animal advocates to use these pictures as campaign materials, which can be found under a public copyright license here.
Our thoughts go to our fellow Turkish investigators from Haykonfed, who lost one of their colleagues yesterday. Nurhan Demirci Kalender had dedicated her life to caring for animals at the Turkish border. No later than last week, Nurhan had rescued four pregnant cows from the trucks.