Can radio broadcasting really improve the welfare of working donkeys in a country where slitting donkey’s noses to help them breathe better is common practice?


Just one of the many case studies that will be discussed at this year’s Colloquium, hosted by World Horse Welfare – that will show how British charities and other organisations are improving the welfare of working equines overseas.

Working horses in Pakistan

The contrast between life and horse ownership in Britain and the impoverished communities overseas where leading UK-based equine charities strive to improve conditions, will come under the spotlight early next month as World Horse Welfare hosts the 7th International Colloquium on Working Equids. Below is just one snapshot of the work and research that will be discussed at this pivotal event for equine welfare and human livelihoods in developing countries. [Header image shows working horses in Pakistan]

Global working equine welfare charity, the Brooke, are releasing results of a test programme using radio broadcasting to change welfare practices, as part of a holistic approach to improve working equine welfare.

In line with human development, the equine sector has become increasingly aware of the need to measure and demonstrate the impact of projects undertaken in countries with working equine animals.

There are over 4.7 million horses, donkeys and mules working in Pakistan, transporting people and goods, working in brick kilns and on farms. The Brooke works in urban and rural communities in three regions of Jacobabad, in Pakistan, providing emergency health services for working equines, and working with communities to improve the way the animals are treated. Major welfare issues include work-related injuries, slit nostrils and dehydration, amongst others.

The charity is committed to monitoring and evaluating the impact of its work in Pakistan, as in all the countries in which it works, so it can ensure that these activities really do achieve the welfare improvements at animal level that it is aiming for. 

In the area around Jacobabad, the Brooke conducted a face to face questionnaire with 193 owners of working equine animals, which asked about knowledge and practices relating to their animals’ water requirements, wound management and nostril slitting (a traditional practice widely used by local people as they believe this helps their animals to breathe better).

Soon after this, the Brooke created radio messages in the local language discussing these three practices. These were transmitted daily on FM radio between 5pm and 8pm from 16th December 2011 until 14th January 2012.

Once the transmission phase was completed, the original questionnaire was repeated. Findings in relation to knowledge and reported practices were compared before and after transmission.

Dr Sher Nawaz, a senior programme manager on the project said:

“In Jacobabad - Pakistan, before the radio messages, only 29% of owners said they offered water four or more times daily, 83% of owners said they treated wounds using traditional methods, which can include engine oil, household disinfectant, methylated spirit, henna and ash. Almost all said they used nostril slitting on their animals to help breathing.Nostril slitting - the Brooke

“After transmission though, we were delighted to find that there was a dramatic change in results. Over three quarters of owners agreed they would offer water four or more times daily. Also, 9% recalled the message about the use of saline and antiseptic instead of harmful substances and 16% realised that nostril slitting was not beneficial for their animal and would not help them to work harder; and therefore they would no longer consider doing it.”

[Image above, right, shows an example of nose slitting in Pakistan]

As the Brooke has started to move from purely direct veterinary intervention models towards an approach built around training of local service providers and capacity building of equine owners, the need for more outcome-based indicators to evaluate impact has increased. The evaluation of the impact of the radio programme in Pakistan relied on owner-reported change in knowledge and practices rather than animal based indicators.

Dr Melissa Upjohn, one of the co-authors on the study and research coordinator for the Brooke in the UK said: 

“Any questionnaire runs the risk of bias, especially if those answering your questions say what they think you want to hear, rather than what actually happens. The next step following a study like this, where we are relying on owner-reported answers, is to evaluate the work using direct observation of animals.”

In situations where interactions with owners occurs face-to-face, or through visual media, the changes in owner knowledge and practices may be even more significant. A wide variety of tools are used by the Brooke programme teams to communicate issues of equine welfare in-country. The use of a holistic approach is designed to ensure that the charity’s programmes have a worthwhile effect on owner behaviour and to promote community participation and commitment to improving equine welfare.

Dr Sher Nawaz will be explaining more about the other two ways of working in Kenya and in India, which use different engaging methods to get across core welfare issues, in his oral presentation at the colloquium.

As the Brooke continues to work with equine owning communities to identify and address welfare issues, the process of monitoring and evaluation is evolving so that the charity can report more accurately the impact that its work has on working equines and the communities that rely on them.

The 7th International Colloquium on Working Equids, hosted by World Horse Welfare, will be held at the Royal Holloway, University of London on 1-3 July. The event is also sponsored by The Brooke, SPANA, the Donkey Sanctuary and World Animal Protection. Find out more about this ground-breaking event.

Who is the Brooke and what does it do, from the Brooke itself:

The Brooke is an international animal welfare charity dedicated to improving the lives of working horses, donkeys and mules. The Brooke believes that animal suffering is preventable and that good animal welfare protects human livelihoods. 100 million working equines are the engines that power the developing world, doing the hardest jobs under the toughest conditions to support the livelihoods of 600 million people. That’s 9% of the world’s population. The Brooke works together with local communities to bring about lasting improvements to the lives of their working animals. With 80 years of experience from 11 different countries, the Brooke reaches more working equines than any other organisation. Last year, for the first time, the Brooke reached over one million working horses, donkeys and mules. The Brooke’s aim is to reach two million working equines each year by 2016.