New scoring system for assessing working animals proves worth in study

Working animals are crucial to the livelihoods of an estimated 600 million people.. © The Brooke
Working animals are crucial to the livelihoods of millions of people around the globe. © The Brooke

Researchers who trialed a welfare assessment scoring system for working horses, donkeys and mules believe it will prove a useful in targeting help towards the most vulnerable animals.

Ahmed Ali and his colleagues tested the system among more than 5200 working animals in Egypt.

They said it met their initial objective of being a useful tool for identifying which equid had the most significant welfare problems, drilling down into the type of work being performed, and the age and sex of each animal.

This, in turn would help in selecting appropriate interventions, and in targeting them toward the most vulnerable animals, the researchers wrote in the journal, Applied Animal Behaviour Science.

The study team noted than an estimated 112 million horses, donkeys and mules worked in developing regions of the world.

“Though their roles are often fundamental to the well-being of the families they work for, their welfare is often severely compromised due to the limited resources and/or limited knowledge base of owners,” they noted.

Ali was joined by Mohammed El Sayed, Mohamed Matoock, Manal Fouad and Camie Heleski in developing a welfare assessment score system which they hoped would provide an accurate, comprehensive, quick and reliable assessment of working animals.

A total of 5248 working animals, comprising 2198 horses, 2640 donkeys and 410 mules, were assessed between February 2012 and January 2014.

They were categorised based on their species as well as work types – either transporting goods or people by cart; being ridden, such as in tourist locations; or working in brick kilns.

On behavioral measures, the most at-risk animals appeared to be horses who pulled goods by cart. The study team found that 20.7% of them showed a depressed attitude and 22.6% were unresponsive to an observer’s approach, which was significantly greater than the other species and the other work types.

It was found that 30.8% of mules who pulled goods by cart avoided an observer’s approach and 42.7% avoided chin contact. Another 14.2% showed an aggressive response to the observer, which was significantly greater than the other species and the other work types.

In terms of physical measures, 21.6% of donkeys who pulled goods by cart had harness-induced lesions and 21.9% showed evidence of firing-type lesions.

Mules who pulled goods by cart had the highest prevalence of mistreatment-induced lesions at 36.7%.

In general, animals who pulled goods by cart or worked in the kilns were at highest risk, they summarised.

The researchers reported that, from a positive perspective, horses used for riding or transporting people by cart – most often animals working in tourist areas – were most likely to be in a healthy physical state – over 85% for both physical and behavioural measures, which was much greater than other species and other work types.

The researchers were variously affiliated with Michigan State University, the Cairo Clinic of The Brooke Hospital for Animals, and Cairo University.

A welfare assessment scoring system for working equids—A method for identifying at risk populations and for monitoring progress of welfare enhancement strategies (trialed in Egypt)
Ahmed B.A. Ali, Mohammed A. El Sayed, Mohamed Y. Matoock, Manal A. Fouad, Camie R. Heleski.
The abstract can be read here.

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