Could Radio Broadcasts Help Pakistan's Working Equids?

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Could Radio Broadcasts Help Pakistan's Working Equids?

More than 75% of owners said they would provide their equids with water four times daily or more after the radio broadcasts aired, compared to just 29% before the broadcasts.

Photo: The Brooke

The Brooke, a global working equid welfare charity, is set to share results from a test program using radio broadcasting to change welfare practices, as part of a holistic approach to improve working equine welfare. The group will present its findings at the 7th International Colloquium on Working Equids, taking place July 1-3 in Surrey, England.

There are over 4.7 million working horses, donkeys, and mules in Pakistan, transporting people and goods, and working in brick kilns and on farms. The Brooke works in urban and rural communities in three regions of Jacobabad to provide emergency health services for these working equines, and to work with communities to improve the way the animals are treated. Major welfare issues include work-related injuries, slit nostrils (a traditional practice widely used by local people as they believe this helps their animals to breathe better), and dehydration, among others.

The Brooke conducted a face-to-face questionnaire with 193 owners of working equine animals in the area around Jacobabad. Owners were asked about their knowledge and practices relating to their animals’ water requirements, wound management, and nostril-slitting. Soon after this, the Brooke created radio messages in the local language discussing these three practices. These were transmitted daily on FM radio between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. from Dec. 16, 2011 until Jan. 14, 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.

“Before the radio messages, only 29% of owners said they offered water four or more times daily, and 83% of owners said they treated wounds using traditional methods, which can include engine oil, household disinfectant, methylated spirit, henna, and ash," said Dr. Sher Nawaz, a senior program manager on the project. "Almost all said they used nostril slitting on their animals to help breathing.

Post-broadcast, 16% of owners said they realized that nostril slitting was not beneficial for their animal and would not help them to work harder, so they would no longer consider doing it.

Photo: The Brooke

“After transmission, though, we were delighted to find that there was a dramatic change in results," Nawaz continued. "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% realized that nostril slitting was not beneficial for their animal and would not help them to work harder, therefore they would no longer consider doing it.”

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 radio program in Pakistan relied on owner-reported change in knowledge and practices rather than animal-based indicators.

“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," explained Dr. Melissa Upjohn, one of the co-authors on the study and research coordinator for the Brooke in the United Kingdom. "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.”

At the colloquium, Nawaz will explain more about working in Kenya and in India, which use different engaging methods to get across core welfare issues.

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