The Donkey Sanctuary in Spain has come to the aid of authorities after they seized a number of mistreated equines. 

Local police conducted a raid in Badajoz, Spain and found 26 famished animals in the hands of a group of Portuguese travellers, known as ciganos, who were engaged in the illegal trafficking of animals and collection and sale of scrap metal. 

Police seized the animals, and called upon local animal welfare charities for help – our sanctuary in Spain, El Refugio del Burrito, were quick to respond. 

Open wounds

Among the animals seized from the illegal camp were five horses and a mule. Verónica Sanchez, director of El Refugio del Burrito, said: “All the animals seized were found in an extremely poor and frail condition. The equines had open wounds caused by inappropriate harnesses - their extreme thinness and the excessive weight of the carts they pulled - which was around 450 to 500 kg - only exacerbated the wounds.”

The conditions that the animals were living in within the camp were grim. With no access to water or quality food, foraging only on what they could find in the field - the majority of animals were suffering from dehydration and starvation. 

Often, the animals were not kept secure and would wander off in search of food and water into the capital Badajoz, straying onto busy roads. Sadly, this is a recurring problem. 

Carlos Rosa, a local veterinarian, explained: “Every year it is the same story. The ciganos come across the border from Portugal to deal equines in Extremadura, Spain. The animals run free looking for food, and are found loose on the roads, injured or dead, which represents a case of animal mistreatment and compromises the safety of citizens on the road.” 

Mule and donkey rescued

This problem also occurs when the animals are no longer of any use to the ciganos – they abandon them when they are sick or too old. This is how we found elderly donkey Candy, roaming free on a national road. He was frail and of no further use, so cast out and left to fend for himself. Candy is now safely in our care, and enjoying the rest of his days at El Refugio del Burrito where he has everything he needs.

The mule which was seized from this camp is also now living at the sanctuary, freed from her suffering. Margarita, as she’s been named, is 27 years old. 

Our vets needed to give her a full assessment, to identify any health concerns that we would need to deal with to help her on her road to recovery. This was not easy, as Margarita was so nervous. 


A stressful experience

Coral Ruiz, head of animal welfare of El Refugio del Burrito said: “When Margarita first came into the sanctuary, our vet tried to check her, but it was impossible because of the fear she had, she urinated on herself several times and she was shaking - she clearly looked stressed. We decided to leave her for a while and give her some space, so she could have the time she needs to become familiar with us and feel comfortable”.

Now Margarita was settled, staff can work on improving her health. Within just one month, she has gained weight from being fed a high calorie diet with vitamins and minerals and is looking much better. Her teeth are in a very poor state, and urgent dental work was required to help her eat comfortably – further visits from the equine dentist are needed to extract painful broken teeth. 

She also has joint pain in the hind limbs, possibly derived from osteoarthritis and the over-weight loads she was carrying. 

While Margarita is in recovery staff will continue to monitor her progress and assess her quality of life – she is responding very well to treatment and we are hopeful for her future in our care.

Working together

Rosa Chaparro, communications manager who assisted with Margarita’s rescue, said: "This case of animal abuse is the direct consequence of a problem of social exclusion. The people who form these camps do not have resources or properties, and culturally this is their way of living - they are travellers, they survive on the margin of legality. 

"They go from place to place looking for sustenance and scrap. They buy, change and sell animals to make a living. In the end, as always, those who pay for the consequences of social inequalities are the most vulnerable people, children and animals. We hope that the competent authorities in Portugal will do something to help these people, to help integrate them into society so that they can earn a living in a legal way, that their children can go to school and break the circle of poverty that often causes this terrible animal abuse."

We are thankful to the authorities in Spain - the local police, the Town Hall from Badajoz and the Seprona, who fulfilled their duties safeguarding the welfare of the animals. We will continue to work with the authorities to promptly offer our support in situations like this where donkeys and mules are in need of help, and work together to stop their suffering.