‘Don’t put the cart before the mule!’ Challenging assumptions regarding health-related treatment practices of working equid owners in Northern India

This paper challenges assumptions that the health management of working equids among some of India’s poorest communities is mainly dependent upon income, economic influence, or access to veterinary services. Using a mixed-methods approach, hierarchies of treatment practices are revealed through an examination of the ‘lived experience’ of equid owners in brick kilns and construction sites in northern India. Semi-structured interviews with 37 equid owners and corresponding livelihood surveys, combined with data from two focus groups with professional animal health practitioners and the welfare data of 63 working equids collected using the Equid Assessment, Research, and Scoping (EARS) tool, contributed to the findings of the study. Four principal influencing factors were found to affect the decision-making practices of equid owners. Infrastructural factors, community characteristics and experience, owners’ characteristics and experience, and economic factors all impact the belief structures of equid owners. However, without verifying the validity of the treatment measures being employed, some animals are at risk from hazardous treatment behaviours. By understanding decision-making using the theory of planned behaviour, the findings of this study can provide a crucial contribution to informing future interventions involved in the health management and welfare of working equids.

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Quantifying poor working equid welfare in Nepalese brick kilns using a welfare assessment tool


Across Asia the brick-kiln industry is expanding. In Nepal, urban dwelling has increased in recent years, raising requirement for low-cost, mass produced bricks to meet the population needs. Working equids (WEs) play a key role in non-mechanised kilns. Assessing the welfare of these equids is the starting point to addressing concerns. In line with One Welfare principles, the health and welfare of animals, people and the kiln environment are interlinked.

Materials and methods

In December 2019, 119 WEs were assessed in seven brick kilns in three districts of Nepal, using the Equid Assessment Research and Scoping tool, developed by The Donkey Sanctuary. The objective was to measure welfare at the start of the brick kiln season.


Horses were the predominant species of WE. Hazardous housing and environments were seen in all kilns. Behaviour responses were mixed. Owner responses and animal examination indicated poor working conditions. Signs of harmful practice were evident in most animals. The majority were underweight, with poor general health, skin alterations and musculoskeletal issues.


The welfare of equids prior to starting brick kiln work is poor, posing significant concerns for the actual working period. Intervention to enhance health and welfare is required.

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Of mules and men: challenging relationships in WW1

Faith A. Burden
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Together with the millions of horses employed by Allied troops in WW1 were mules. As horse losses mounted many mules were purchased, frequently from far away, arriving by ship to end up in the mud-filled trenches with handlers often ill-equipped to care for them. The introduction of British troops to mules must have been a challenge, as mules were not widely appreciated or used in the UK. A mule is not a horse, and to work successfully with them required a different attitude. A less developed flight response made them hard to drive on, and impossible cavalry mounts; a highly developed fight response made them quick and dangerous adversaries when faced with ill treatment. It was oft stated that there were two types of mule men; those that learnt to work considerately with them and those that ended up in the field hospital!

Understanding of the mule and its unique attributes and character developed and they became firm favourites with many troops who relied upon them to carry their most precious cargo in their calm and enduring way. The relationship between this unique equine and their handlers in WW1 will be examined through the eyes of mule and man.

Not published as conference proceedings

2020 update of the global donkey and mule population


Donkeys and mules support some of the worlds poorest communities. This paper is an update to a previously published study. This investigation focuses on global, regional and country level trends in donkey a mule populations to understand how this has developed between 1997 and 2018. Results show that the general trend identified in a previous paper analysing data between 1961 and 1997 is continuing with the number of donkeys globally increasing at a rate of ~1% per annum, whilst mule population are in decline at a rate of ~2% per annum. Results also suggest that the trend identified in the original paper are still evident today with the largest increases in donkey population seen in the sub-Saharan African region and greatest reduction noted in Eastern Europe with these two regions having different socio-economic drivers. This study highlights that multifaceted socio-economic drivers influence changes in donkey and mule populations demonstrating the complexity of designing targeted one-welfare approaches.


The FAO live donkey and mule population information will be compared across regions over time to understand where there have been significant increase or decrease in population size and distribution.


The aim of this project is to quantify changes in global donkey and mule population between 1997 and 2018 using FAO data.


The objective of this project is to better understand changes in donkey and mule population distributions based on open source data.

Understanding factors which influence the welfare of working equids in arid and tropical climates


Continuation of previous Protection from the Elements project, to extend work to cover arid and tropical climates.


Data collection for baseline study of shelter seeking behaviour in Portugal and Spain, plus working equid owner questionnaire. Collect data on current working equid management practices and protection from the elements (PFE) in Mescal growing regions in Mexico with comparison to communities in Vera Cruz.

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