Staff at The Donkey Sanctuary in Spain know they still have work to do despite seeing a significant improvement in animal welfare at El Rocio, Spain’s biggest equine pilgrimage.

After five years of working in El Rocio, our sister charity El Refugio del Burrito saw in their recent visit that 95% of the animals were in good physical condition – however, the festival ended with 48 interventions, three rescued mules, and nine equine deaths.

With over 20,000 equines taking part in the pilgrimage, ensuring animal welfare standards can be a tall order. Violeta the mule was rescued after more than a day abandoned without food or water – she was extremely underweight. Another mule, Cleo, was 27-years-old and exhausted after pulling a cart for more than 80km. Our team stepped in to help, and to secure lasting change they are campaigning to introduce a maximum age for equines to work during the pilgrimage.

Elderly mule receives attention at El Rocio
Serreta injury at El Rocio
Underweight mule pulling a cart at El Rocio

Verónica Sanchez, sanctuary director, said: “In the five years that we have been putting in place our animal welfare strategy, great changes have been seen. The first years it was very common to see animals with large wounds caused by the use of serrated nosebands or inappropriate harnesses and the condition of the rental animals was deplorable.

“Nowadays it is rare to see animals with open wounds and the cases of animals that are not fit to work have been reduced considerably. This improvement is mainly due to our task of prevention, education and joint interventions with Seprona (nature protection service), who support our work at all times, especially when it comes to cases of animal abuse. Every year it is rarer to see animals in poor condition and when there is any we intervene forcefully to avoid any further suffering to the animals.”

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