The animals have been in limbo on a ship since Saudi Arabia rejected them five weeks ago, an official said on Monday.
“We have communicated the decision to the Australian government today … we have politely refused their offer,” Pakistani farm minister Sardar Yar Muhammad Rind told Reuters.
“We are grateful that they considered giving as a gift that huge quantity to Pakistan, but we can not accept unhealthy sheep,” he said by telephone from Islamabad.
The livestock are at the heart of a dispute between Australia and Saudi Arabia over their level of infection with the viral illness, which causes cold sore-like scabs on the animal mouth.
“We have communicated the decision to the Australian government today … we have politely refused their offer.”
Pakistani farm minister Sardar Yar Muhammad Rind
An Australian on-board veterinarian found 0.38% are infected with the illness and rated them in “excellent health.” The Saudis, on the other hand say 6% are infected, more than the maximum limit of 5% per consignment.
The United Arab Emirates also rejected the sheep, though there were reports that the MV Cormo Express had docked at one of the two ports of Dubai. Officials from both Port Rashid and Port Jabal Ali denied to Aljazeera.net that the ship had docked with them.
Animal rights activists in Australia demanded that the sheep, stranded at sea in the searing heat, should be humanely put down as they had no commercial value and their destruction was the best of a bad range of options.
Australia’s Animal Liberation offered a A$10,000 (GBP4,100) reward to anyone who can provide the exact location of the ship.
“It will require adequate experienced stockmen, guns and charges to be sent to the ship to ensure the deed be done as swiftly as possible,” the group said in a statement
Australian Agriculture Minister Warren Truss said the government was pursuing negotiations to find a new port to unload the sheep, which were being offered for free by their Saudi importer.
French actress-turned-animal rights activist Brigitte Bardot had also waded into the battle. She wrote an open letter to Truss, calling for a quick resolution to the problem.
An ailing film star
The minister’s spokesman said it would be more helpful if Bardot wrote to the Gulf states and asked them to take the sheep.
As the largest livestock exporter in the world, Australia sends around six million sheep in 160 shiploads to the Middle East each year. The government wants to ensure this row does not threaten its A$1 billion a year industry.
The Australian government has suspended exports of sheep to Saudi Arabia, its largest market, since the row erupted.