Working equines at crisis point in “spiraling climate disaster”

Donkeys forage for food amid a rubbish dump full of plastic in Morocco.
Donkeys forage for food amid a rubbish dump full of plastic in Morocco. © Spana

Today is World Animal Day and international animal charity Spana is calling for urgent international action to protect working animals and the vulnerable communities they support.

Spana (the Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad) says that animals are the silent victims of the global climate crisis and urgent action is needed to protect working animals and livestock and the poverty-stricken communities who depend on them for their survival.

Severe drought and natural disasters – such as flooding, cyclones and wildfires – are having a devastating impact on working animals and the families they support in low-income countries worldwide – and the situation is deteriorating fast as the climate crisis intensifies.

These environmental catastrophes, combined with plastic pollution and other man-made problems, are leading to the spread of disease, causing injury and death, and eliminating food and water sources, impacting animals, vulnerable communities and our environment.

The crisis is striking across all continents: For example, it is estimated that 80 percent of Somalia’s livestock died as a result of the crippling drought affecting east Africa in 2017.

In 2016, more than one million animals were victims of the ‘dzud’ in Mongolia – a climatic phenomenon where summer drought is followed by extreme winter temperatures as low as -50˚C, leading to the death of animals in vast numbers from starvation or cold. More than eight million animals died as a result of the previous dzud in 2010, and these events are becoming more frequent due to climate change.

Official figures in India estimate that 17,000 animals (including oxen and buffaloes) were killed by cyclones across the country in 2020, and nearly one million cattle are thought to be lost to flooding in India every year.

“The spiralling climate disaster is now high on the political agenda, but the devastating impact on animals is still almost completely overlooked,” said Spana Chief Executive Linda Edwards.

“Animals are suffering terribly from drought and the extremes of climate change, paying the ultimate price in vast numbers. And there is a heavy human cost to the loss of these animals too, as so many families in the world’s poorest regions depend on them for their survival.

“We have reached crisis point – every day the lives of working animals and those that depend on them are made worse by the devastating effects of extreme weather. It is imperative that firm international commitments are made to address the wider impact of climate change.”

In response to the escalating crisis, Spana is providing a lifeline to working animals in many of the world’s poorest communities. The charity is providing free veterinary care and vaccination programmes, as well as carrying out emergency projects to ensure that water, feed and shelter from extreme conditions are available to animals in desperate need.

For example, following the most severe drought in years in the Turkana region of Kenya, Spana constructed a 110m-deep solar-powered borehole to provide a sustainable supply of fresh water for more than 15,000 animals and nomadic pastoralist communities.

A working donkey in a drought-stricken area of Ethiopia.
A working donkey in a drought-stricken area of Ethiopia. © Spana

Spana Ambassador Paul O’Grady MBE said the need to take urgent action against climate change has never been greater.

“Environmental disasters, consumption of plastic and other devastating problems are leaving animals struggling to survive, often without food, water and vital veterinary care.

“Working animals overseas are facing a constant threat to their health and wellbeing, and the situation is only getting worse,” O’Grady said.

“This World Animal Day, I’ll be standing with Spana and calling for drastic action to protect the animals and families affected by climate in the world’s poorest regions.”

Globally, more than 200 million working animals – such as horses, donkeys, camels, oxen and elephants – support the livelihoods of at least 600 million people in the world’s poorest communities. By performing the role of trucks, tractors and taxis, and transporting food, water, firewater and other essential goods, these animals make it possible for their owners to earn a small income and put food on the table. When climate change and disasters strike, the loss of these animals can jeopardise the survival of entire communities.

A horse receives veterinary treatment from the Spana team in Ethiopia.
A horse receives veterinary treatment from the Spana team in Ethiopia. © Spana/Dylan Thomas Photography

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