Boost for welfare of world’s working equines

Donkeys at work at a brick kiln in India.
Donkeys at work at a brick kiln in India. © Crispin Hughes/The Donkey Sanctuary

A new method to help assess the welfare of working equines around the world has been created by The Donkey Sanctuary.

The Welfare Aggregation and Guidance (WAG) tool is an accessory to the charity’s highly regarded welfare assessment questionnaire known as EARS (Equid Assessment Research and Scoping).

WAG has received prestigious endorsement with its publication as a research paper in the peer-reviewed scientific journal, Animals. This is not only welcome validation for the charity’s work, but it also allows The Donkey Sanctuary to share the tool as widely as possible and promote equid welfare globally.

Whilst EARS assessments provide a wealth of detailed welfare information, The Donkey Sanctuary needed a way to pinpoint areas of most concern within the large amounts of global data generated by EARS. Further results from the WAG tool help guide effective allocation of charity resources and monitor the efficacy of welfare interventions.

The WAG tool uses measures verified as the most welfare-indicative from the EARS questionnaire and produces separate grades for five categories, covering health, nutrition, behaviour, working conditions and housing. Grades are scaled from the worst (J) to the best (A). The grade for an equid population in a farm, industry or country, for example, is highlighted when 15% or more of the animals get at least one ‘red’ (ie poor welfare) answer. This process ensures even equids with very poor welfare are represented and visible in the final results.

Grades for a particular welfare category can then be compared between groups of equids to find those in greatest need. This can be conducted at any scale — from a comparison of small populations in a farm to a comparison of different industries, or even between countries at a global level.

The grading system can also be used as a standardised method to monitor changes in welfare over a period of time, for example, to see if a particular intervention has been successful.

Donkeys at work at a brick kiln in India. © Crispin Hughes/The Donkey Sanctuary

The WAG tool was launched with an ambitious case study of more than 6000 equids in Europe and Asia where EARS data was investigated further and equines in Pakistan and India were found to have the poorest welfare levels. The Donkey Sanctuary then proposed more detailed investigations in these regions to identify the specific causes of issues, guide appropriate intervention schemes and improve equid welfare overall.

Laura Kubasiewicz, Senior Researcher at The Donkey Sanctuary, who led on the research paper said: “The WAG tool provides an invaluable way to summarise welfare in a standardised, comparable way. It also allows welfare charities to find the equids in greatest need on a global scale, pinpoint the drivers of poor welfare, and monitor the effects of schemes aimed at improving those equids’ lives.”

Tamlin Watson, Senior Researcher at The Donkey Sanctuary and co-author, added: “We overcome the problems associated with existing approaches so the WAG tool retains sensitivity, ensuring animals with the lowest welfare scores remain visible and the multidimensional nature of welfare is maintained.”

The Donkey Sanctuary is a global leader for equine welfare, research and veterinary care. The charity operates programmes worldwide for animals working in agriculture, industry and transportation.

The journals are available through open access, ensuring the research carried out by The Donkey Sanctuary can be accessed by all, as well as the scientific community. The article is available here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *