The role of working donkeys and mules in disaster recovery and community resilience

Start date
End date

This project explores the (often overlooked) role of donkeys and mules in sites of disaster, conflict and crisis. It offers various examples of how donkeys have supported vulnerable people in times of crisis, including war and conflict; drought and climate change; and natural disaster. Equids have a critical role to play in these contexts, to support the resilience and recovery of affected communities. However, the efforts of equids are rarely acknowledged in academic research, media reporting and international policy. This project foregrounds the role of working animals in humanitarian crises and, in doing so, expands the concept of ‘community resilience’. This is important for global development policy, resilience programming, and disaster risk reduction, including efforts to achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs). The project will include a desk-based review of the role of equids in sites of disaster, conflict and crisis, including how they contribute to community resilience, and a field-based investigation of the role of pack-mules in the recovery programme after the 2015 earthquake in Nepal.

  • A desk-based review of the role of equids in sites of disaster, conflict and crisis, including how they contribute to community resilience. This is informed by document analysis (policy papers, historical texts, and academic publications) as well as semi-structured interviews with key informants, primarily field staff working in frontline services in crisis zones (conducted between June-July 2020).
  • A field-based assessment of the role of pack mules in disaster recovery after the 2015 earthquake in Nepal; this component will include both qualitative (semi-structured interviews) and quantitative (structured questionnaires) tools to gain a complete picture from equid owners, people in affected communities and NGOs involved in the disaster response.

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.

Publication date

A new framework for assessing equid welfare: a case study of working equids in Nepalese brick kilns

Equids fulfil many different roles within communities. In low- to middle-income countries (LMICs), in addition to providing a source of income, equids also provide essential transport of food, water, and goods to resource-limited and/or isolated communities that might otherwise lack access. The aim of this investigation was to understand the welfare conditions that donkeys, mules, and horses are exposed to whilst working in Nepalese brick kilns. To understand the welfare conditions of equids in Nepalese brick kilns, the Welfare Aggregation and Guidance (WAG) tool in conjunction with the Equid Assessment, Research and Scoping (EARS) tool was used to understand the health, behaviour, nutrition, living and working conditions in brick kilns. Further analysis of individual EARS responses focused on key indicator questions relating to demographic information was used to investigate specific areas of welfare concern and attitudes of handlers towards their equids. Trained staff carried out welfare assessments between December 2018 and April 2019. The information gathered using the EARS tool was summarised using the WAG tool to pinpoint areas of welfare concern and suggest possible strategies to mitigate poor welfare conditions and suggest areas to improve the welfare of equids. Overall, the results indicate that to improve the welfare of equids working in Nepalese brick kilns, there should be better provision of clean water, both when working and stabled, equipment should be removed and shade provided during rest periods, with improvements made to housing to allow the equids to rest and recuperate when not working. Further work should also focus on collaborating with owners and equid handlers to improve their attitudes and practices towards their equids. Such improvements can be implemented via training of equid handlers and kiln owners whilst using the EARS and WAG tools to provide a sound basis on which to monitor the effectiveness and impact of education programs on equid welfare.

Start page
Publication date
Research output
Subscribe to Nepal