Intergroup session: the welfare of equidae

On 15/11/2018, in All posts, by Animal Welfare Intergroup

On the morning of 15 November, the EU Intergroup on the Welfare and Conservation of Animals gathered at the European Parliament in Strasbourg to consider the welfare of equines (horses, donkeys and hybrids), with attendance from 14 MEPs and other organisations. The Intergroup session was chaired by Jacqueline Foster MEP (ECR, UK) and featured speakers from World Horse Welfare, The Donkey Sanctuary and Brooke – Action for Working Horses and Donkeys.

The legal status of equidae may vary due to the different roles they can assume: transport, sport, farming, therapy, or companionship. The diversity of their situations is reflected in the wide range of welfare issues they can be facing. The MEPs addressed two different topics during the Intergroup Session. They first discussed responsible ownership and the progress achieved by the equine subgroup of the Animal Welfare Platform. They then focused on the trade in donkey hides and the impact for local communities.

Roly Owers, Chief Executive of World Horse Welfare, opened the floor with a presentation on the progress of the self-initiated subgroup on equines of the EU platform. The own initiative report by Julie Girling MEP on the responsible keeping and care of equidae stressed in 2017 that “equid owners should have a minimum level of knowledge of equid husbandry, and that with ownership comes a personal responsibility for the standard of health and welfare of the animals in their care”. To ensure responsible ownership, the report highlighted a need to develop European guidelines on good practice.

In the framework of the EU Platform on Animal Welfare, member States, independent experts, NGOs, veterinarians and representatives from the industries set up a self-initiated subgroup to work together on providing guidance on responsible ownership, keeping and care of equines. This group is currently finalising two key documents: a guide on good animal welfare practice for the keeping, care, training and use of horses, and one on donkeys. The Chairman of the subgroup, Dr Birte Broberg, will present the work and highlight the next steps that the self-initiated subgroup will be taking during the meeting of the Platform, next week. “The translation and dissemination of these documents in the EU will be key to make them effective and successful tools. We are asking European Commission and Parliament to support our efforts to make this guides available and accessible across EU”, said Roly Owers in his closing remarks.

The Intergroup then focused on the trade of donkey hides and the social, economic, and welfare problems that it raises. Ian Arthur Cawsey, UN Ambassador at The Donkey Sanctuary, explained why this trade represents a global crisis for donkeys and those that depend on them. During the last decades, China has seen the demand for donkey skins explode to produce ‘ejiao’, a substance used in traditional medicine, health and beauty products. Currently, the Chinese demand is assessed around 4 million donkey skins a year. As the global trade increases, donkeys are being traded and stolen all around the world.

However, these animals support the livelihood of 500 million people across the world and some of the world’s poorest communities. When donkeys are sold or stolen, the additional burden of taking on their work often falls on the most vulnerable members of the society: children and women. Moreover, since the skin is valued so much more than the meat, the premature death of the donkeys is actually considered as ‘helpful’. This situation led to widespread abuses and a global welfare crisis. It also raises serious concerns for public health and the environment. In the current conditions, it seems hard for the trade in donkey skins to ever be humane or sustainable.

Petra Ingram, Chief Executive Officer of the Brooke – Action for Working Horses and Donkeys, and Dr. Jennifer Wathan, Senior Manager, gave a presentation on the local impact of the trade in donkey hides on livelihoods in Africa. They advocated to think global and act local. A donkey is a valuable asset that provides multiple essential functions to a household. The growing trade of donkey skins therefore deeply impacted communities in Africa.

As the value of donkeys exploded, so did the number of thefts. People are either losing their animals to thieves or, when forced to sell them due to difficult economic situation, finding themselves unable to afford a new animal. The theft of donkeys questions the livelihoods of families and communities. In several countries, demonstrations against the current situation were organised by habitants. To protect their donkeys, people are coming up with innovative ways to ensure their security. The development of successful solutions and results requires to collaborate with local communities.

Petra Ingram said  – “donkeys provide a huge contribution in developing countries all over the world. For example, every day a donkey earns users and owners in Kenya between $5-12, doing tasks such as collecting water, carrying goods to market or in farming. Loss of a donkey not only results in that income being jeopardised, but also increases the burden on families to carry out manual work themselves. Our research shows that vulnerable people are particularly affected, especially women and the elderly who use their donkeys for daily chores and transportation. This can even keep children out of school.”

“We hope that highlighting this issue to the MEPs who attended or observed online today will prompt more research, and ultimately bring us closer to tackling the devastating effects of an unregulated trade in donkey hides. Brooke has made some progress, but this is a global crisis, too large for us and other charities to tackle in isolation, so we must work together to raise awareness and gather more evidence to support positive change for the donkeys and the people who depend on them.”

The Intergroup members had a lively discussion on the current situation and the potential solutions. They enquired about the upcoming work of the Animal Welfare Platform. They examined the opportunities of actions in regard of the trade of donkey hides. They also considered raising the issue in the context of the upcoming elections.


To watch the full session, click here.



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