Fresh from climbing Mount Everest and seeing working equines “undertake incredible journeys” in the Himalayas, popular British broadcaster, adventurer and author Ben Fogle has put his support behind International Working Animal Day.
Animal welfare charity SPANA is behind the day, highlighting the gruelling journeys that working animals must undertake every day in developing countries throughout the world.
Fogle returned from the Himalayas last month, “where pack mules undertake incredible journeys every day and provide a lifeline for local communities”.
“In mountainous and isolated regions, where cars and trucks cannot venture, survival is only possible thanks to the tireless steps of working animals,” he said.
“For over half a billion people worldwide, a working animal is a vital necessity. Working animals represent their transport, their means of collecting firewood and water, and their only way of making a small income to provide for their families.”
Fogle said he supported Spana’s work offering free veterinary treatment to working animals in need, and “I’m asking that these animal heroes get the recognition they deserve.”
Fogle is also the UN Patron of the Wilderness, a role that sees him highlight the pressure and impact on the earth’s wildest corners.
Around the world, more than 200 million working horses, donkeys, camels and other animals do the jobs of trucks, tractors and taxis. By transporting goods and people, they make it possible for impoverished families to earn a living. However, this often means carrying heavy loads over long distances in extreme temperatures and tough conditions.
In Zimbabwe, for instance, donkeys travel an average distance of 20 miles each day to collect water. In Mauritania, more than 70,000 donkeys deliver water to the residents of the capital, Nouakchott, day after day. In temperatures often exceeding 40 degrees, they pull carts with containers of water weighing 400kg.
Despite their importance, working animals often lead short, painful lives, enduring appalling working conditions, with inadequate nutrition and no access to essential veterinary treatment.
Their plight is also largely unknown in the western world. New research shows that 40 per cent of people don’t know what a working animal is.
Spana provides free veterinary care to sick and injured animals, as well as working with communities to improve animal welfare through education and training. But the sheer number of working animals globally means that there are still millions that currently have no form of veterinary treatment available to them.
Spana Chief Executive Geoffrey Dennis said that despite their vital role and the often arduous journeys they make, the sad fact is that very few working animals have access to veterinary treatment when they are sick or injured.
“In Britain, we’re lucky that we can usually choose how much, or how little, we walk. If the weather is bad or we’re feeling tired, most people can jump in the car or on the bus to get where they need to be.
“But it’s a very different story for many working animals overseas. These horses, donkeys and camels have to walk many miles every day, transporting backbreaking loads in difficult terrain and sweltering heat. During these tough journeys, animals often have little shelter, water or rest, while lameness and painful wounds are common.”