A Foul Smell Over Cape Town Finally Clears

Written by Camilla Jessen

Feb.23 - 2024 2:55 PM CET

Photo: Ian Geraint Jones / Shutterstock.com
Photo: Ian Geraint Jones / Shutterstock.com
A mysterious smell that left many in Cape Town with a bad taste in their mouths was caused by 19,000 cows on a ship headed to Iraq.

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For the past few days, an awful stench has lingered over Cape Town, South Africa’s major city. Described as "indescribable," the smell led local authorities to search for possible sewer leaks on Monday, activating a special environmental health team.

Authorities have now identified the source of the "sewer smell" that blanketed parts of the city: A ship carrying 19,000 cows from Brazil to Iraq.

The ship - and its ammonia stench - was far from welcome in Cape Town, a top tourist destination in Africa. "It's peak tourist season," notes Søren Bendixen, DR's Africa correspondent based in the city.

"The unusual transport caused quite a panic in the city’s upscale neighborhoods, with few understanding where the intense smell was coming from," he says.

"The ship arrived Sunday evening, and the 19,000 cows crammed on board brought with them a terrible odor that quickly spread," the correspondent explains, noting the ship has sparked a heated debate.

Concerns Over Animal Transport

The 190-meter-long ship has left Cape Town, passed Africa’s southernmost point, and is currently sailing towards Iraq at 16.5 knots.

"In its wake, the ship leaves behind a tense debate. Thousands have signed a petition calling for authorities to prevent such transports," Bendixen reports.

"Images of cows covered in their own urine and feces spread almost as fast, leading to demands for the cows to be removed," he adds.

The animal welfare organization SPCA was allowed by South African authorities to send a veterinary consultant on board to check on the animals. They found dead, sick, and injured cows, with eight being euthanized, according to the AP news agency.

The SPCA criticizes the export of live animals, calling the conditions on the ship "abominable" due to the accumulation of urine and feces.

The Democratic Alliance, the ruling party in Cape Town, also condemns the transport of live animals.

"Exporting live animals, as demonstrated in this situation, exposes animals to hazardous conditions such as dangerous ammonia levels, rough seas, extreme heat stress, injuries, dirty environments, exhaustion, and even death," the party states.

The decision to ship the live cows reportedly meets specific religious slaughter requirements in Iraq, Bendixen explains.

"However, in Cape Town, several Muslim organizations have also demanded action, arguing that the treatment of the animals does not align with Islam."

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