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Brooke Hospital for Animals acts to help neglected foals

Thousands of foals as young as two weeks of age may be taken from their mothers and sold at markets across India, says the British-based charity Brooke Hospital for Animals. Many of these foals, which are being sold as working animals, could be taken away only days after birth.

Joy Pritchard, veterinary advisor for the charity, has witnessed this trade first-hand at the Looniyawas equine market in Jaipur, India. She describes the devastating impact this trade has on these vulnerable animals: "Foals, some as young as 15 days old, barely able to survive without their mothers' milk, are tied up side by side in long lines waiting to be sold. They have no choice but to nibble at the piles of dried grass placed in front of them, or chew in vain at each other's manes.
“When the sun moves round, there is no respite from the heat and dust except a quick drink of water given whenever the owner remembers them. All too often they are forgotten.

While teams of vets from Brooke Hospital for Animals stand by to offer free veterinary treatment and advice on equine care, the charity, which has been working in India since 1992, has reported a growing problem in the trade of young foals in Jaipur. It now fears that if this trade is replicated at horse fairs across India, thousands of foals could suffer the same fate. “In Jaipur, we worm foals, treat wounds and put pressure on owners to offer more water,” continues Pritchard. “But there are dealers who are prepared to offer very young foals, taken abruptly from their mothers, to anyone who will pay the price.”

The lucky ones will be bought outright. Others will be bought by speculators or 'in bulk' by a middleman, to be re-sold at the same trading fair or packed into lorries and moved around the state from sale to sale. Under these conditions most will suffer from poor immunity and injuries during transport, and many will die from malnutrition and disease.

The foals are Rajasthan's famous Marwari breed with the curved ear tips. For 5,000 rupees (£66) you can buy a thin little bay colt, destined for the tonga taxi carts of Jaipur's busy streets. A bright skewbald filly which may be used as a future 'marriage horse' to carry Rajasthani grooms to their weddings, costs 8,000 rupees (£106).

"The dealers have brought them vast distances so it is nearly impossible to prevent this trade in tiny foals,” explains Pritchard. “But Brooke will be putting pressure on the market authorities to set a minimum age at which animals can be traded at fairs and will encourage people to buy an older foal that is far more likely to survive into adulthood.”

There are an estimated 2.5 million working equines in India. These animals are usually the only source of income for their poverty-stricken families and work under extreme conditions of heat, pain, exhaustion and illness. A combination of economic, social and cultural factors, including lack of education, superstition and poverty, result in unnecessary pain and suffering for these animals.

The Brooke Hospital for Animals was founded in 1934 to improve the condition and well-being of equine animals overseas by providing free veterinary treatment for the working horses, donkeys and mules of some of the poorest people in the world and by advising and training their owners and users. We are the only organisation dedicated to providing veterinary treatment for working equines, alongside training owners, to bring about lasting change.

More info: www.brooke-hospital.org.uk


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Updated: October 2005.