Available Open Access

The development of the AWIN welfare assessment protocol for donkeys

The donkey population has increased in the last 10 years, with an estimated 50 million donkeys currently worldwide. Donkey welfare, meanwhile, is an increasing global concern that receives close public scrutiny. However, multiple challenges are surrounding how donkey welfare is assessed and recorded. The Animal Welfare Indicators (AWIN) project is the first project, funded by the European Commission, intended to improve donkey welfare by developing a scientifically sound and practical on-farm welfare assessment protocol. The present study describes the procedure for the development of the AWIN welfare assessment protocol for donkeys: 1) selection of promising welfare indicators; 2) research to cover gaps in knowledge; 3) stakeholder consultation; 4) testing the prototype protocol on-farm. The proposed two-level strategy improved on-farm feasibility, while the AWIN donkey app enables the standardized collection of data with prompt results. Although limitations are linked with a relatively small reference population, the AWIN welfare assessment protocol represents the first scientific and standardized approach to evaluate donkey welfare on-farm.

Volume
58
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The human-animal relationship and its influence in our culture: the case of donkeys

Donkeys (Equus asinus) face a global crisis. Their health, welfare, and even their local survival are compromised as the demand for their skins increases. Such demand for donkey skins aims to supply the ejiao industry. Ejiao is a traditional remedy made from the collagen of donkey skins. Some people believe it has medicinal properties. It is estimated that the ejiao industry currently requires approximately 4.8 million donkey skins per year. Although the future of the donkeys is still uncertain, we must guarantee a life free from suffering to the animals under our responsibility. The trade of donkey skins also undermines the cultural role of donkeys. Donkeys have developed an essential role in Brazil, especially in the Northeast region of the country, carrying on their backs construction materials, water, and food, and, as a consequence, helping people build cities in the deepest hinterland. The close relationship between people and donkeys affords donkeys a unique place in the local culture. This central importance has been recognized by Brazilian artists throughout history. We have many examples of songs, books, “cordeis” (typical Brazilian literature), poems, documentaries, movies, woodcuts, paintings, and sculptures, created to honor this important actor. Here we describe some examples of this human-donkey relationship, and its influence on our culture.

Volume
58
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Research output

Donkey skin trade: is it sustainable to slaughter donkeys for their skin?

Donkeys (Equus asinus) face a global crisis. The health, welfare, and even survival of donkeys are being compromised as the demand for their skins increases. It is driven by the production of ejiao, a traditional Chinese remedy believed by some to have medicinal properties. It is estimated that the ejiao industry currently requires approximately 4.8 million donkey skins per year. Since there is no productive chain for donkey skin production outside of China, the activity is extractive and has resulted in the decimation of donkeys. Gestation is 12 months in donkeys, increasing the risk of extinction if such practices are not controlled. In this scenario, the donkeys are collected (purchased for low prices, stolen, and collected from the side of the roads) and are then often transported for long distances, usually without water, food, or rest. The trade, in Brazil, poses significant biosecurity risks, particularly because examinations are rarely conducted and therefore infectious diseases, such as glanders and infectious anemia, remain undetected. Furthermore, in chronic stress situations, the immune system is suppressed, increasing the biosecurity risk, especially because donkeys are a silent carrier of diseases. Rarely there is traceability with animals from different origins being put together in “fake farms”, before being delivered to slaughterhouses. The opportunistic strategy of collecting animals, or buying for low prices, keeping them without access to food and veterinary assistance, is what makes this trade profitable. Our experience in donkey welfare and the global skin trade suggest that it will be enormously challenging and cost-prohibitive to run a trade at the standards required to be considered humane, sustainable, and safe. Although donkeys are being blamed for the involvement in road accidents, it is not an ethical solution to maintain this trade as an alternative. Moreover, the ecological role of donkeys in native ecosystems has not been elucidated, and some studies indicate they could even have a positive effect. Regardless of the future the donkeys will have; we must guarantee a life with the least dignity to the animals under our responsibility.

Volume
58
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Research output

Donkeys in transition: changing use in a changing world

Donkeys have a long history in the development of human societies. Typically referred to as a beast of burden, traditional uses for donkeys have included the transportation of goods and people, use in agricultural and forestry activities, to access water, and provide citizens in low- and middle-income countries a means of making an income for communities. However, the rise of mechanization, the development of modern farming techniques, and the increasing availability of motorized vehicles have led to donkeys and mules becoming redundant from traditional roles in many parts of the world. We provide examples of where donkeys have successfully transitioned from traditional roles to new, non-traditional roles in Europe and North America, and demonstrate that, although the roles and use of donkeys and mules are changing in a rapidly developing world, we can learn lessons from the past and apply them to current challenges. As the need for working equids declines in transport and agriculture, they still hold great value for recreational, therapeutic, and environmentally friendly methods of animal traction. 

Volume
58
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Research output

Science and knowledge of free-roaming donkeys - a critical review

The emergence of free-roaming donkey (Equus asinus) populations globally has brought novel challenges for conservationists, land managers, and those concerned about animal welfare. We provide a review of the scientific literature pertaining to the place and role of free-roaming donkeys from 1950 until 2020. Using quantitative and qualitative techniques, namely categorical and thematic analysis and critical discourse analysis, to review >100 articles, we critically examine the logics and rationales that are used to either support or denounce donkey presence in particular landscapes and discuss their place and role in different ecological contexts. Free-roaming donkeys are largely understudied and clouded by dichotomous points of view, different conservation agendas, and the presence of other species in donkey habitat. There is an important need for more in-depth, site-specific studies on free-roaming donkeys that draw on tools and techniques from across the social and natural sciences. Such efforts would offer a richer, more holistic, and comprehensive picture of free-roaming donkeys that consider both human and animal perspectives and the wider environment. This has important implications for generating long-term sustainable management solutions for free-roaming donkeys. © 2021 The Authors. The Journal of Wildlife Management published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of The Wildlife Society.

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'All my animals are equal, but none can survive without the horse’. The contribution of working equids to the livelihoods of women across six communities in the Chimaltenango Region of Guatemala

It is widely assumed that working equid husbandry is carried out by men, and women are often not recognised as facilitating equid welfare. The aim of this study is to investigate how working equids contribute to women’s livelihoods in six of the World Horse Welfare programme target communities in Guatemala and determine what roles women have in their care. Thirty-four face-to-face interviews were carried out and data were analysed using both quantitative and qualitative methods. This study found that working equids support women by reducing domestic drudgery, generating income, feeding livestock and saving time. Thirty-two women played a major role in the care of one or more equids, and overall, women did not feel that they knew enough about equid husbandry. Thirty-one women said they would attend training opportunities if the advertising was clear and they felt that women were able to join. This study recognises the contribution of working equids to women’s livelihoods, describes the roles women play in equid husbandry and addresses the discrepancies between women’s roles and their capacity to undertake these tasks. This emphasises the need for extension services to include and cater for women, improving equid welfare and their ability to continue supporting women’s livelihoods.

Journal
Volume
11
Issue
6
Start page
1509
Publication date
Research output
Country

Understanding the attitudes of communities to the social, economic and cultural importance of working donkeys in rural, peri-urban and urban areas of Ethiopia

Working donkeys (Equus africanus asinus) are vital to the development and support of people's livelihoods in rural, peri-urban, and urban areas of Ethiopia. However, despite their critical role in providing transport, food security, and income generation to some of the poorest and most marginalized households, donkey contributions to human livelihoods have been largely unexplored. Donkey users, veterinary surgeons, business owners, and civil servants were interviewed to investigate the role humans play in shaping donkey lives while furthering our understanding of the social and economic impacts of working donkeys to human lives. Findings are discussed through seven guiding themes; donkeys as generators of income, the relationship between donkeys and social status, donkeys and affect, empowerment through donkeys, the role of donkeys in reducing vulnerability and encouraging resilience, donkey husbandry, and gender dynamics all of which gave a broader and richer insight into the value of donkeys. Donkeys are an important support in rural, peri-urban, and urban settings through the creation of economic security, independence, and participation in local saving schemes. In addition, donkeys provide social status, empowerment to marginalized groups such as women and the very poor and provide a sense of companionship. Whether the interviewee was a donkey user or a key informant appeared to influence their views on donkeys and their welfare, as did their location. The variations in views and practices between urban and rural settings suggests that assessing the socioeconomic value of donkeys in different locations within the same area or country is critical, rather than assuming that similar views are held between compatriots. Despite their centrality to many people's lives in Ethiopia, working donkeys often hold lowly status, are misunderstood, and given little husbandry and healthcare.

Volume
7
Issue
60
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The Welfare Aggregation and Guidance (WAG) tool: A new method to summarize global welfare assessment data for equids

Animal welfare can be represented by an array of indicators. There is, however, increasing demand for concise welfare assessments that can be easily communicated and compared. Previous methods to aggregate welfare assessments have focused on livestock systems and produced a single welfare score, which may not represent all aspects of welfare. We propose an aggregation method for the recently developed Equid Assessment Research and Scoping (EARS) welfare assessment tool that results in grades for five welfare categories: housing conditions, working conditions, health, nutrition, and behavior. We overcome the problems associated with existing approaches by using a single aggregation method (decision trees) that incorporates the most important welfare indicators in a single step. The process aims to identify equids with the poorest welfare and aid decision-making when allocating resources. We demonstrate its application using a case study of over 6000 equids across Europe and Asia, where equids in India and Pakistan had the poorest welfare status in terms of health (respiratory disease and open wounds) and behavior (signs of fear and distress, and limb tethering practices). We recommend identification of the specific causes of these issues, using either existing detailed welfare data or through issue-specific assessments by an appropriate professional, to guide the development of appropriate interventions and, ultimately, improve equid welfare.

Journal
Volume
10
Issue
4
Start page
546
End page
546
Publication date
Research output

No prescription, no problem! A mixed-methods study of antimicrobial stewardship relating to working equines in drug retail outlets of Northern India

Multidrug resistance (MDR) is already occurring among some equids in India. Donkeys and mules are a mobile species moving between regions and international borders, often populating areas of India where private community pharmacies, or medical stores, are the primary healthcare provider for both humans and animals. This article highlights how the capacities of drug retail outlet workers might affect their antibiotic dispensing practices, particularly in relation to donkeys and mules, in order to consider how this might impact the development of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) on a wider scale. A mixed-methods approach was implemented using patient simulation method (n = 28), semi-structured interviews (SSIs) (n = 23), focus group discussions (FGDs) with veterinary practitioners and non-governmental organisation animal health workers (n = 2 FGDs), and participant observation. Fewer than 48 per cent of drug retail outlet workers admitted to having had any formal training in pharmaceuticals at all, while 78 per cent reported having no formal training in animal-related pharmaceuticals. Moreover, 35 per cent of all participants sold antibiotics without a prescription, unprompted and without specifically being asked for antibiotics. Of the antibiotics dispensed, only 21 per cent were correctly dispensed for the symptoms presented, and all dosages dispensed were incorrect (underdosed). Furthermore, 43 per cent of drug retail outlet workers interviewed believe that some antibiotics can be legally dispensed without a prescription. Equine owners in northern India are frequently being sold antibiotics without a prescription and, in most cases, with incorrect diagnoses, treatment choice, and dosage. A substantial gap in capacities exists amongst Drug Retail Outlet (DRO) workers, with few being sufficiently qualified or trained to dispense antibiotics to animal owners. The study highlights the need for further training of private DRO workers as well as knowledge extension and awareness training for both DRO workers and animal owners regarding antimicrobial resistance and its potential impact upon livelihoods. It also illustrates the need to identify a balance whereby greater enforcement of regulation at all levels is implemented, while at the same time maintaining sufficient access to medicine for rural populations.

Journal
Volume
9
Issue
6
Start page
295
Publication date
Research output
Country

Multi-kingdom characterization of the core equine fecal microbiota based on multiple equine (sub)species

Background

Equine gut microbiology studies to date have primarily focused on horses and ponies, which represent only one of the eight extant equine species. This is despite asses and mules comprising almost half of the world’s domesticated equines, and donkeys being superior to horses/ponies in their ability to degrade dietary fiber. Limited attention has also been given to commensal anaerobic fungi and archaea even though anaerobic fungi are potent fiber degrading organisms, the activity of which is enhanced by methanogenic archaea. Therefore, the objective of this study was to broaden the current knowledge of bacterial, anaerobic fungal and archaeal diversity of the equine fecal microbiota to multiple species of equines. Core taxa shared by all the equine fecal samples (n = 70) were determined and an overview given of the microbiota across different equine types (horse, donkey, horse × donkey and zebra).

Results

Equine type was associated with differences in both fecal microbial concentrations and community composition. Donkey was generally most distinct from the other equine types, with horse and zebra not differing. Despite this, a common bacterial core of eight OTUs (out of 2070) and 16 genus level groupings (out of 231) was found in all the fecal samples. This bacterial core represented a much larger proportion of the equine fecal microbiota than previously reported, primarily due to the detection of predominant core taxa belonging to the phyla Kiritimatiellaeota (formerly Verrucomicrobia subdivision 5) and Spirochaetes. The majority of the core bacterial taxa lack cultured representation. Archaea and anaerobic fungi were present in all animals, however, no core taxon was detected for either despite several taxa being prevalent and predominant.

Conclusions

Whilst differences were observed between equine types, a core fecal microbiota existed across all the equines. This core was composed primarily of a few predominant bacterial taxa, the majority of which are novel and lack cultured representation. The lack of microbial cultures representing the predominant taxa needs to be addressed, as their availability is essential to gain fundamental knowledge of the microbial functions that underpin the equine hindgut ecosystem.

Volume
2
Issue
6
Publication date
Research output
Keywords
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