British equines at risk from foreign donkeys

March 19, 2009

Hoppy, believed to have come from Romania, can only walk on three legs.

The growing number of donkeys of unknown origin being imported into Britain from mainland Europe pose a real risk to the country's equine population, according to The Donkey Sanctuary.

The number of donkeys being rescued and imported from Europe into Britain is at an all-time high, the Devon-based sanctuary says. Any of unknown origin may potentially carry exotic diseases - posing a real risk to the UK's equine population.

The Donkey Sanctuary is concerned that there are currently no requirements for equines travelling from Europe to receive a health check or blood tests on arrival in Britain, although they must be certified to come from holdings free from a number of diseases.

"There are always going to be disease risks involved when buying or rescuing a donkey when you do not know where it has originated from," says Alex Thiemann, veterinary surgeon at the sanctuary.

"The diseases we check for are not normally expected to occur in the UK but do in Europe and thus pose a real risk. This appears to be of increasing relevance as donkeys may be imported from Europe and sold in the UK with very little in the way of health checks."

The sanctuary, a registered charity providing refuge to thousands of donkeys, recognises these risks and quarantines any donkey of unknown origin until blood tests have been taken. They check for equine piroplasmosis, equine infectious anaemia (EIA) and equine viral arteritis (EVA) before allowing the donkeys to mix with existing residents.

The sanctaury encourages anyone planning to buy or rescue donkeys from Europe, or who has recently done so, to seek immediate advice from their local veterinary practice to ensure the necessary blood tests are carried out.