Addis Ababa, Ethiopia was the venue for the 5th International Colloquium on Working Equines. The 5th of its kind this colloquium jointly sponsored by the Sanctuary and Addis Ababa University focused on the Future for Working Equines. Since it's inception in 1990 the colloquium has taken place every four years and has rapidly become an important forum for the exchange of ideas and techniques amongst like-minded people.
The 5th Colloquium brought together nearly 200 delegates representing 25 countries. Many sectors of the communities involved with working equids were represented with vets, scientists, welfare charities and government bodies all being present. The decision to bring the 5th Colloquium to Ethiopia was a natural one, Ethiopia has an equid population of nearly 8 million and much of the country's population relies on animals for transport and draught power.
Based at the Ghion Hotel in Addis Ababa the Colloquium provided opportunities for delegates to attend oral and poster sessions with discussion and participation being actively encouraged. In addition to the scientific proceedings field trips were organised to see the facilities at the Donkey Sanctuary / SPANA clinic in the grounds of the Addis Ababa University Veterinary Faculty. Using these impressive facilities at Debre Zeit case discussions, behavioural assessments and harnessing demonstrations were open to all delegates and allowed the exchange of practical ideas and techniques. A field trip to the rift valley also allowed delegates to observe working equids in both urban and rural environments allowing them to develop a better understanding of the different challenges faced by these distinct populations.
The scientific proceedings of the colloquium were kindly opened by Professor Paul Kanyari, Dean of the Veterinary Faculty of Nairobi University who illustrated the importance of the working equid to many developing countries and the responsibility that must be placed upon those that own and work with these animals. The theme of his address was the important link between the welfare of working animals and the welfare of the families depending upon them. The 5th International Colloquium chose to focus on the topics of Welfare, the Environment, Legislation and Sustainable Methods of Extension and Education. These topics are ones that are at the forefront of worldwide development and politics and it is very fitting that the working equid community should acknowledge the part it must play in these challenging and varied areas.
The 'welfare' of working equids is at the forefront of the many issues tackled by charitable organisations and veterinary professionals but the assessment of 'welfare' is a very new concept, one which was discussed at length at the colloquium. Bill Swann from The Brooke introduced the welfare sessions and posed the question of how we measure welfare and using such measurements how do we assess the success of any intervention? Studies to determine potential welfare issues in various countries were presented showing that although working equids may all suffer from problems such as back sores, dehydration and lameness regardless of the country they are from other problems may be much more localised. By identifying the problems innate to a particular location organisations and individuals working with working equids can more efficiently direct their efforts. The results of many such fact finding projects were presented with disease surveillance data from many developing countries being presented and discussed. There were many useful suggestions for interventions that may help to minimise these problems.
Whilst identifying common health problems can be relatively simple in the field a definition of 'welfare' is particularly difficult to resolve. A number of methods of assessing welfare in companion and farm animals have been suggested and new methods of assessing the welfare of working equids are now being developed and recognised. Different methods of assessing working animal were demonstrated by Tania Dennisson and Mohammed Oussat at the Donkey Sanctuary's clinic in Debre Zeit and sparked much debate and discussion.
Whilst identification of welfare problems is of great importance perhaps one of the most crucial roles of the colloquium is allowing ideas to be exchanged about the ways in which these welfare problems can be tackled. Many exciting techniques and ideas were presented including new methods of anaesthesia, saddle pads for the prevention of wounds and efficient and humane systems of harnessing equids for agricultural purposes. With over 20 delegates presenting papers with a welfare theme from twelve countries an insight into the problems of working equids worldwide was provided and many new and exciting ideas to evaluate welfare in a working environment were delivered. By having access to such essential information it may be hoped that charitable organisations, researchers and government agencies working closely with working equids may in the future be able to assess the success of their intervention strategies using the new welfare assessments and perhaps at the next colloquium this issue will be revisited.
Environmental issues were also discussed with a particularly thought provoking keynote speech being delivered by Dr. Kate Rawles. Dr. Rawles discussed the growing concern over climate change and emphasised the role of the developed world in this issue.Whilst the developed world is focusing upon decreasing it's CO2 emissions it became clear from the presentations regarding the environment that working equines have a valuable part to play in preserving the environment and are in actual fact the original 'smokeless technology' providing a sustainable, eco-friendly alternative to oil guzzling cars and lorries. However the negative impact of working equids on the environment was also investigated and case studies looking at detrimental effects of the breakdown products of drugs administered to equids on wildlife and the environment were discussed. Although it is clear that the impact of equids on the environment is far less than that of mechanised transport measures must still be taken to reduce any such impact to a minimum.
Mr. Paul Roger introduced the colloquium to the concepts of animal welfare legislation and its enforcement. Animal welfare legislation can be an important tool for the working equid community and examples of such legislation were discussed at length in this session. Mr. Ahmed El Sherbiny from Egypt discussed the legislation situation in Egypt and presented an interested talk about the development of animal welfare laws in Egypt and the challenges of enforcing these laws. Enforcement of animal welfare laws was a topic discussed in depth with case studies relating to Egypt, UK, Tunisia and Guatemala. Mrs Gigi Kay also presented a thought provoking presentation about the legislation regarding prescription only veterinary medicines and the disparity between the recommended dosing levels in many western countries and those of some developing countries, this highlighted the flaws in poorly designed approval mechanisms for veterinary drugs in many countries and the fact that many manufacturers may take advantage of such situations.
Finally education and extension was examined with attention being paid to the many participatory methods implemented by charities, individuals, researchers and government organisations to educate owners and handlers about donkey welfare and care and to demonstrate practically best practices when dealing with working equids.
This session emphasised the importance of sustainable methods of education and extension and many presentations identified the success of educating school children - the "donkey owners of tomorrow". Encouragingly many of the presenters had also realised the importance of evaluating the success of their education and extension strategies by studying the long term effects and benefits of their efforts as demonstrated by Enny Nambalambo from Namibia who discussed the success of an education and acquisition project relating to draft animals in rural Namibia.
In conclusion the 5th International Colloquium on Working Equines provided an exciting and proactive forum for the exchange of ideas and techniques relating to the working equid population of the world. The many presenters and demonstrators at the colloquium emphasised the importance of adopting sustainable methods when dealing with working equids and their owners/handlers. It is also particularly encouraging that many organisations are beginning to critically evaluate the work which is being carried out and developing intervention strategies based upon scientific data and not just what is thought to be the best course of action. Working equids have an important economic and welfare role to play in many developing countries and it is promising that their importance is being recognised.
By adopting a multi-disciplinary approach to dealing with the challenges of working equids new ways of improving the welfare and productivity of working equids are being developed and adopted.