SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - "No truck, no sheep": that's the rule that will confront thousands of people in Bahrain when they arrive to buy live Australian sheep for slaughter during the Muslim Eid al-Adha feast in December.
In an effort to improve animal welfare, Australian sheep exporters and the Bahrain Livestock Company said on Wednesday they would not allow people to transport sheep in the boots of cars, as has happened in the past.
To get the message across, cartoon-style posters will be erected at the Bahrain feedlot. One shows a trussed-up, sweating sheep in a car boot with a red cross through it and one shows a smiling sheep in a truck with a tick.
Australia's live sheep trade to major import markets in the Middle East has for years been criticized by animal welfare groups which say the transport of thousands of livestock by ship and their sale is cruel.
Anyone arriving at the feedlot intending to transport sheep in cars will be refused and will only be sold sheep once they return with the proper transport, said Meat & Livestock Australia, LiveCorp and Bahrain authorities.
"We are seeing improvements and have already turned away people who wanted to transport sheep in their cars. These people were asked to return with acceptable transport," said Bahrain Livestock Company chairman Ebrahim Mohamed Ali Zainal.
During the three-day Eid al-Adha festival, thousands of people arrive at the Bahrain feedlot to purchase a sheep for sacrifice, as required by Muslim ritual.
At the end of the hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, Muslims throughout the world celebrate the festival, which translates as the Feast of Sacrifice.
The Eid commemorates the Prophet Abraham, whom Muslims believe was prepared to sacrifice his son for God, through the slaughter an animal such as a sheep, camel, cow or goat.
Australian animal welfare expert Peter Dundon, who is based in the Middle East, welcomed the move.
"Whilst Australia provides training and support in the marketplace, it is actions like this initiative that have the capacity to change individual practices and influence the broader Middle Eastern community," he said in a statement.
Reporting by Michael Perry; Editing by Miral Fahmy