Morocco’s carriage horses are fighting for survival following the collapse of the tourist industry amid the global Covid-19 pandemic, leading to the launch of an emergency feeding programme by international animal charity Spana.
Hundreds of caleche horses in Marrakech are suffering from malnutrition and struggling to survive, having been off the streets since March 20, following the declaration of a nationwide state of emergency. All commercial flights to and from Morocco have been suspended, and the rapid halt in visitors is having a severe impact.
The loss of income made by transporting tourists around the bustling medina has left their owners unable to afford to feed them. Working with local partners, the Spana team has been delivering lifesaving concentrated feed to almost 600 horses in Marrakech and the neighbouring town of Aït Ourir.
“The devastating impact of the coronavirus is far-reaching and, as the economic situation worsens, the survival of countless working animals is now under severe threat,” said Geoffrey Dennis, Spana Chief Executive.
“In developing countries, working animals – including those used for tourism – are a lifeline for their owners, providing a livelihood for people in many of the world’s poorest communities. In the absence of work, however, it is proving impossible for owners to afford basic necessities for their animals. Owners are becoming increasingly desperate about the prospect of losing their animals and the terrible, long-term implications this will have.
“The endpoint of this global crisis is unknown. But it is essential that measures, such as our emergency feeding programme, are taken to prevent animal suffering and to assist people in the poorest communities to keep their animals alive.”
Morocco is not the only country in which working animals are facing a dire situation. In Tunisia, Egypt and other tourist hotspots, a similar crisis exists, with increasing numbers of animals being abandoned by their out of work owners.
Globally, an estimated 200 million working horses, donkeys, camels, elephants and other animals provide a livelihood for over half a billion people in the world’s poorest communities. By doing the jobs of trucks, tractors and taxis – and transporting people, goods and water – these animals ensure a livelihood for impoverished families.
Spana has worked in Morocco since 1925 and operates veterinary centres in Marrakech and across the country. The charity, which provided veterinary care to more than 37,000 working horses, donkeys, mules and other animals in Morocco last year, oversees a licensing scheme for Marrakech’s caleche horses, which means that all horses must be regularly inspected, and passed as fit and healthy before they can be worked. Following a successful health check, the horses wear a Spana band around their pastern.
The charity also holds an annual ‘Caleche of the Year’ awards ceremony. This event, which has been hosted by Spana every year since 1996, celebrates the caleche carriage owners and their horses, recognising the best animal welfare practices. It includes a range of award categories, such as best horse, best horse and carriage, and best effort. Winners are rewarded with copper plaques for their carriages, along with bags of barley for the horses.