NATIONAL NEWS - The National Councils of Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) has euthanised more than 3000 mice and 500 guinea pigs following a workers’ strike at the Onderstepoort Biological Products (OBP) company in Pretoria north recently.
The employees of the company, affiliated with the National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers (Nupsaw), started picketing and abandoning their posts in an attempt to demand a salary increase of 9% on 19 October after negotiations on an annual salary increment at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) reached a stalemate.
“The strike started on 19 October. We received a call for assistance on the 23 October.
“The period between 19 and 23 October, the animals were not consistently fed and taken care of as they should have been,” said Naomi Visser from the NSPCA’s animal ethics unit in a Facebook post.
“Permanent animal facility staff, animal technicians and animal caretakers embarked on a strike and as result abandoned their responsibilities towards the animals.
“The protesters barricaded the entrances and intimidated temporary workers who were put in charge as part of a contingency plan to care for the animals,” she said.
The protesters recklessly opened the paddocks to allow horses to escape. The resident veterinarian and volunteers worked tirelessly throughout the evening to take the horses back to the premises.
According to the NSPCA, horses were unsettled, injured and veterinary assistance was sought.
On 29 October, the situation worsened and the NSPCA had to intervene again.
Animals including horses, cattle, sheep, goats, rabbits, guinea pigs, rats and mice were found without water and food and a warning in terms of the animal protection act 71 of 1962 was issued.
“Our statutory mandate is the prevention of cruelty to animals. We have to ensure that no animal suffers unnecessarily for any reason. When we arrived at the facility, the animals especially the rodents, had already suffered neglect.
“The feeding schedules, daily care and the favourable environmental conditions were not in place anymore. Mice were starting to fight in the cages and the guinea pigs were incessantly gnawing on the steel bars of the cages.
“Some deaths had already occurred at that stage. It was clear that these animals were in distress and that they were suffering,” Visser explained.
“It was, furthermore, not possible to provide adequate care to the large number of animals with the number of volunteers available.
‘The husbandry required for the rodents are time consuming and a full-time job entailing feeding, watering, and cleaning of cages and health care.
“The unknown factor of how long the strike was going to continue also played a role in the decision of what would be in the best interest of the animals.”
According to Visser, after careful consideration and weighing up all the available options it was decided to stop the unnecessary suffering of the animals and to prevent further cruelty.
“It was necessary to humanly euthanise a number of animals.”
In response to what legal action would be taken due to the severe neglect and subsequent deaths of many animals, Visser said that a warning was issued to the management immediately regarding the contravention in terms of the animals protection act 71 of 1962.
“We are going to report the staff to the South African Veterinary Council (SAVC) and inform the South African Association for Laboratory Animal Science (SAALAS) about the conduct of their members. OBP management is also investigating their options in this regard.”
OBP communications officer Zipho Linda denied that the deaths of all the animals were due to the strike action.
“Yes, some animals had to be euthanised. The euthanisation of animals in the facility is a regular and necessary occurrence, when the animal population gets too big, this is an essential measure in order to ensure the well-being of the remaining animals,” Linda explained.
Linda told Rekord that a contingency plan was put in place to have a temporary group of staff members tend to the animals, while the strike was ongoing.
“There are still animals on the property and are being well looked after by our temporary staff members.”
A full investigation would be launched into the neglect and abandonment of these animals.
“It is highly unlikely that all animals will be removed. The immediate steps forward are to constantly and closely monitor all the animals.
“OBP management provides us with daily feedback on the status of the animals and they are currently in the process of drawing up a management plan for the way forward,” Visser said.