Helping horses in Nepal: Welfare of brick kiln equines in spotlight

Mules working in the brick kiln industry in Nepal.
New research by The Donkey Sanctuary aims to understand the conditions that donkeys, mules, and horses are exposed to whilst working in Nepalese brick kilns. © The Donkey Sanctuary

A study into the work and welfare of equines working in the brick kiln industry in Nepal is being made available through open access by the peer-reviewed scientific journal Animals.

A New Framework for Assessing Equid Welfare: A Case Study of Working Equids in Nepalese Brick Kilns, aims to understand the conditions that donkeys, mules, and horses are exposed to whilst working in Nepalese brick kilns, to better understand ways of improving their welfare.

The research was undertaken by the world’s largest equine welfare charity, The Donkey Sanctuary as part of the Nepal Brick Kilns Project. It uses information from the Equid Assessment, Research and Scoping (EARS) tool that was gathered during 2018 and 2019 by the charity’s partner, Animal Nepal.

The information collected provides a robust baseline on which to monitor the effectiveness and impact of education programs on equid welfare in the future. The study is particularly relevant as brick kilns are difficult environments in which to maintain a high level of equid welfare.

Information gathered using the EARS tool was summarized using the Welfare Aggregation and Guidance (WAG) tool to pinpoint areas of welfare concern, and to suggest possible mitigation strategies under a powerful equid welfare monitoring framework.

The study also discovered that the handler’s attitude towards their equid has an impact on its welfare conditions.

Suggested training programs to address this can subsequently be implemented, specifically focusing on the impacts of using harmful practices such as hobbling, or tethering, which involves tying the legs of the equid to stakes in the ground, substantially restricting any movement.

Mules working in the brick kiln industry in Nepal. © The Donkey Sanctuary

Author Stuart Norris, Senior Statistician at The Donkey Sanctuary, said the paper provided the most detailed account of equid welfare and a baseline dataset in which to build strategies for improving the welfare of equids working in Nepal’s brick kilns.

“The use of the EARS tool, incorporating both the WAG tool and further analysis to understand the handlers’ impact on the welfare of equids, provides a robust monitoring tool to measure any future interventions,” Norris said.

Head of Global Research at The Donkey Sanctuary, Zoe Raw who also contributed to the paper said working donkeys and mules are the backbone of rural economies across the world, providing people with a means to earn a living, transport goods, collect water or enable their children to access education.

“In Nepal, working donkeys and mules play a critical role; owners rely on their donkeys and mules to transport bricks within the brick kilns in order to earn a living and to feed their families. Working animals have a critical role to play in human livelihoods and in development, and we look forward to seeing wider adoption of robust research techniques to help working animals and people in a more meaningful and impactful way.”


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