International Working Animal day celebrates “overlooked” equine workforce

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A working donkey in Ethiopia. Despite their critically important role, this animal workforce all too often remains overlooked and neglected.
A working donkey in Ethiopia. © Spana

They often lead short, hard lives, but today the invaluable contribution of more than 200 million working animals, mostly horses, donkeys, and mules, is being celebrated.

Today is International Working Animal Day and animal charity Spana (the Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad) is raising awareness about the vital role of working animals in people’s everyday lives – including families in the world’s poorest communities, and those in the UK and other Western nations.

Globally, an estimated 200 million working animals support the livelihoods of people in low-income countries. By ploughing fields, transporting food, water, goods and firewood, they make it possible for poverty-stricken communities to earn a small income and survive. These animals also make a hugely important difference in people’s daily lives, including by enabling people to travel to hospital, and making it possible for many children to go to school and receive an education.

However, working animals make a hugely valuable contribution well beyond the countries where they work. In Western countries, including the UK, many everyday products consumers enjoy – such as tea, coffee, sugar and chocolate – start their journeys to our homes being carried by a working animal. From Costa Rica to Ethiopia, working animals often have an important role transporting agricultural produce on small farms, fields and plantations. Many of these products eventually end up on our shelves in supermarkets and shops.

Yet, despite their critically important role, this animal workforce all too often remains overlooked and neglected. Countless animals lead short, hard lives, working in extreme conditions, with little rest, poor nutrition and no access to veterinary treatment. And new research conducted for Spana by OnePoll, shows that one-third of people in the UK (33%) have not even heard the term ‘working animal’ before.

Spana is working to improve the lives of working animals across the world. Last year, the charity provided free veterinary care to more than 291,000 sick and injured working animals in 28 low-income countries. Spana also delivered training in animal care to more than 87,000 owners and provided animal welfare education to more than 71,000 children, helping the owners of tomorrow to develop positive attitudes and empathy towards animals.

However, the need is huge and the vast number of working animals worldwide means that there are still millions that have no help available to them and lack the most fundamental requirements.

Spana Chief Executive Linda Edwards said that globally, working animals have a critical role in helping people in the poorest communities to earn a small income and, ultimately, survive.

“They make an immeasurable difference supporting the livelihoods of families living in poverty and are also vital to the provision of numerous everyday goods used around the world.

“Yet, despite the invaluable contribution these animals make, all too often they are forced to work in appalling conditions and their welfare needs are not met,” Edwards said.

She said that Spana teams across the world are striving to improve the lives of working animals and are focused on alleviating their pain and suffering. “We are committed to delivering lasting improvements in animal welfare, to bring about a better future for working animals.”

On International Working Animal Day, Spana is highlighting the plight of working animals worldwide and the urgent help they need. “It is essential that their welfare is championed and that their basic needs – such as access to water, proper nutrition, shelter and adequate rest – are met.”

Spana Ambassador Paul O’Grady MBE said working animals were integral to the lives of people in the world’s poorest communities, and help many families to earn a small income and put food on the table.

“But very few people are aware that we also rely on these animals for many of the everyday items we take for granted in the UK.

“Worldwide, working horses, donkeys, camels and other animals support poverty-stricken families by ploughing fields and transporting food, water and firewood. Much of the food and drink they transport is ultimately destined for our homes – providing everything from our morning cup of tea to the chocolates we enjoy every day,” O’Grady said.

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