Wounds in working donkeys are a common welfare problem in many countries. However, little is known about their nature and prevalence.
The aim of this project was to assess the general health of donkeys from several communities in Tamil Nadu, India, and to establish the prevalence, nature and severity of mutilations and other skin wounds.
Over ten months five hundred and eighty-two donkeys were examined, and data was collected using a pre-designed, smart-phone app.
Results showed that the overall welfare of donkeys in the five locations was of a reasonable standard, likely because of interventions and education programmes provided to donkey owners in the Tamil region. However, issues with mutilations practices e.g. nose and ear splitting, branding and other skin wounds were still very much present. Over 39% of the donkeys had obtained at least one form of wound, most commonly due to mutilation or poorly fitting harnesses and hobbles.
This data can be used to design future targeted and focused, educational interventions to reduce mutilation practices. The study also highlights the need for further outreach initiatives to improve welfare of donkeys in these regions.
Worldwide Veterinary Service (WVS) India has been working in Tamil Nadu with the working donkeys since 2011, regularly conducting camps for deworming and tetanus vaccinations. Wounds are treated frequently, but often owners are unaware of both the nature of the wounds or how to prevent them. Furthermore, their general understanding of the welfare of their animals is limited, and consequently, donkeys continue to suffer.
Studies in donkey welfare are limited. One study found that the majority of owners of working donkeys in the Bareilly city of India were aware of some of the Five Freedoms (Biswas et al, 2013) suggesting that there is an appreciation of welfare and a basis for progression. Preventable wounds and deliberate “mutilations” are a common occurrence in donkeys throughout the world. A separate study assessed lesions in donkeys from a variety of countries, including India, and found them to be most common on the breast/shoulders, wither and girths, with the type of wounds being related directly to the type of work being performed (Pritchard el al, 2005). Furthermore, the majority had a poor body condition score and demonstrable lameness or gait abnormalities. Since 2011, the WVS India donkey health camps have been providing welfare education to the donkey owners and helping to address commonly encountered issues like poor harness fitting and the use of hobbles. However, they continue to see preventable injuries in these animals. Therefore, a thorough understanding of the nature and type is necessary in order to formulate and implement a targeted intervention programme which fully addresses the current issues faced by donkeys in Tamilnadu.
Outcome based measures have been used to assess donkeys and mules worldwide (Pritchard et al, 2005); similar measures will be compiled and added into a smartphone app currently used by the WVS for data collection and analysis from their current welfare and clinical programmes. Data will then be collected directly into the app during the clinical assessments.