An international equine charity has been working with horse and pony owners in Cambodia to help keep African horse sickness out of the country, following an outbreak in neighbouring Thailand earlier this year.
In February, Thailand was the centre of the first outbreak of African horse sickness (AHS) in the Asia-Pacific region in more than 50 years. Mortality rates were very high, so there were real concerns about the disease spreading to neighbouring countries, including Cambodia, where about 30,000 working ponies support the livelihoods of their families.
African horse sickness had never been seen in Thailand before; it is caused by a virus and transmitted by infected biting insects. The outbreak was first seen in a group of racehorses in March, with at least 42 deaths. Since then, media reports estimate more than 500 horses have succumbed to the disease.
With the support of Cambodia’s government and working with the Cambodia Pony Welfare Organisation, World Horse Welfare’s project team has been working with remote communities to raise awareness of the disease and support practical prevention measures.
In April, the team helped more than 200 ponies and their families in the Cambodian provinces bordering Thailand by assisting with covering stables with shade netting impregnated with insecticide. They also provided clear messaging on AHS symptoms so owners knew what to watch out for. The team continues to monitor the situation closely and is keeping in touch with pony owners in the area.
Many of these ponies have low welfare conditions because of a complex range of issues, including poor nutrition, management and handling practices. The genocide in Cambodia in 1975 means that the rebuilding of knowledge and skills within the population will take time and resources, including services that people need to take care of their animals.
The charity said many of its project countries were facing testing situations over the coming months, and while routine project activities are largely paused, its teams are supporting owners remotely and attending to emergency cases when it is safe to do so. Feed relief schemes are also being developed to help to supply subsidised forage where it is most needed.