• After 5 years of working in El Rocío, we measured a significant improvement in animal welfare. This is the result of our collaborative work with SEPRONA (Nature Protection Service of the Civil Guard) and the City Council of Almonte.
• The pilgrimage ends in 2018 with 30% fewer interventions for animal welfare.
• 95% of the animals have good physical conditions and have their basic needs covered. The cases of abuse are very specific, representing less than 5%.
• The lowest figures of the last 5 years, but the work continues. El Rocio 2018 ends with 9 equine deaths, 48 interventions for animal welfare problems and 3 rescued mules.
Photo: Cleo, 28 years old mule with extreme thinness pulling a cart 80 km to El Rocio, later intervened by SEPRONA and now safe in the Sanctuary.
"Our mission is to completely eradicate any type of abuse," says a SEPRONA member. With more than 20,000 equines participating in the pilgrimage to El Rocio, ensuring animal welfare is a very arduous task in which ERB, with its team of more than 30 equines specialists, participates day and night for six days, in collaboration with SEPRONA.
This task is rewarded year after year by the drastic reduction of mistreatment cases, such as the decrease of non-fit to work animals that assist to the pilgrimage, the number of open wounds by inappropriate harnesses or serrated nosebands and improvements in the transport of these animals.
"In the 5 years that we have been putting in place our animal welfare strategy, great changes have been seen. The first years it was very common to see animals with large wounds caused by the use of serrated nosebands or inappropriate harnesses and the condition of the rental animals was deplorable. Nowadays it is rare to see animals with open wounds and the cases of animals that are not fit to work have been reduced considerably. This improvement is mainly due to our task of prevention, education and joint interventions with Seprona, which support our work at all times, especially when it comes to cases of animal abuse. Every year it is rarer to see animals in poor condition and when there is any we intervene forcefully to avoid any further suffering to the animals "
Although animal welfare has improved, both SEPRONA and ERB agree that there is still much work to go ahead. While the wounds from serrated nosebands and harnesses have been reduced, we still find numerous rental animals in geriatric age, with pathologies associated with age, such as osteoarthritis, loss of muscle mass, weakness, and numerous ailments, which make them unsuitable to work any longer. After passing from owner to owner throughout their lives, instead of being retired they end up at in the hands of unscrupulous traffickers who, despite buying them very cheaply, they try to amortize every penny renting them nonstop during the pilgrimage. They don’t care about their state, the treatment given to them or the efforts they are forced to make. At the end of El Rocío they are re-sold or taken to the slaughterhouse, to obtain up to the last penny they can get from them.
Another problem is the lack of veterinary assistance these animals receive if they fall ill or faint, which is why we decided to start our work in El Rocío in 2014. There is no clinical service by the authorities, if ERB did not assist to El Rocío all these animals would be in a total situation of helplessness.
Force to work animals that do not meet minimum health requirements is animal abuse. 14 animals were immobilized and 3 seized for this
The NGO El Refugio del Burrito has attended more than 60 animals this year, and some of them were in such a bad state that 14 were immobilized and 3 were seized because they were not considered to be able to work. Most of them come from the illegal rental business.
"From a clinical point of view, equids unfit for work are those whose weight, disease or age do not allow them to physically make this effort, as occurs with animals of geriatric age (over 25 years), under 6 months or females pregnant, "says Davide, an equine veterinarian who is part of the ERB team.
All the animals immobilized or seized this year are of geriatric age, they present malnutrition, arthrosis, with open wounds produced by inadequate tools and were rented without rest. It is no coincidence that geriatric age and rental were at least one of the 9 dead animals, which fell suddenly while pulling a car and whose body was marked by the X of the vaccination of African horse sickness (not used from 1992), which indicates that the animal was over 26 years old.
More luck had the mules Violeta and Cleo, that could be saved thanks to the joint intervention of the ERB and SEPRONA, and that were immobilized for being geriatric animals, with very deficient corporal condition and not apt to work. Violeta was found after more than a day abandoned without food or water with her tools on, in a cachectic state (extreme thinness), and after making the road to El Rocío with the brotherhood of Puebla del Río, Sevilla, with someone mounted on her skinny body, ending with a wound of 10 centimetres in his spine. Cleo, 27 years old and exhausted, was intervened while walking the road of more than 80 km pulling a car, with the brotherhood of the Algaba, Sevilla. Here you can see her rescue:
To avoid this problem one of the objectives of ERB is to get the rental market regulated and the maximum age and conditions that an equid must have to work during the pilgrimage.
In 2016, a rental mule collapsed upon arrival at Rocio from Seville. The animal was about 26 years old and was in an extreme state of thinness. The landlord tied her to a tree and left her in the rain, without providing veterinary assistance. The ERB team tried everything that was in their hands to save her for more than 6 hours, unable to do anything to save her life. Both the owner and the person who rented it, who was responsible for the animal at that time, have been sentenced to one year and four months in prison for a crime of animal abuse, causing the death of the equid. "
Prevention, the most potent weapon against abuse
To avoid these cases, one of the tasks of the ERB during the pilgrimage is the prevention task, such as evaluating with the SEPRONA the status of the animals for hire and immobilizing those unfit animals.
Since previous years the main focus of abuse has been on rental animals. Thanks to the constant work of prevention and marking before the pilgrimage the unfit to work, the rental businesses have been improving the welfare of their animals and letting advice from our experts.
"Our veterinarians have been constantly evaluating the status of rental animals and if they were able to work with the support of SEPRONA. If the animals were not in conditions to work we marked them and we asked the owners not to rent them anymore. Then we supervised that they followed the recommendations. If they were ignored and rented to the tagged animals, the animals are seized and the owners are investigated for alleged animal abuse, "explains Verónica Sanchez.
Photo: Mules from the rental of old geriatric and deficit body condition are marked with blue and the authorities immobilize them by not being able to work
As prevention work is also monitored the state not only of the village of El Rocio, but also the animals that make the way and those entering / leaving by transport. "ERB, together with ANDA, the National Association for the Protection of Animal Defense, which has been supporting the ERB team since its inception, in collaboration with the SEPRONA, has been in charge of the inspection of numerous means of transport. The conditions of the animals in general were good with the exception of one case with serious wounds caused by the serrated nose in a mule, and another in which a mule was loaded very violently. The problems have focused more on documentation or unregulated transport practices, "says Alberto Díez, a specialist in animal transport at ANDA.
However, trucks continue to arrive that lack essential documentation, such as passports or transport guides, transgressing European and national regulations. ERB and ANDA remind that traveling with all the documentation in order is, in addition to being mandatory, the only way to guarantee health, safety and ultimately the protection of animals.
On three occasions, animals and carriages were loaded together, which poses a huge risk to animals and a breach of European transport regulations. The direct intervention of the ERB team together with SEPRONA avoided these dangerous practices.
Geriatric mules are the main risk group
The geriatric animals and, especially, the mules are the group with the highest risk of abuse and the regulations should aim to establish an age limit. All the animals seized and most of those immobilized in El Rocio belong to this group.
Guillermo, Equine Veterinarian, comments - "The geriatric horses do not ride and it is more evident at first sight their deteriorated state of health. The mules are normally harnessed, covered with tools and have "mule appearance". This is usually the risk group because of the lack of sensitivity and visibility to the geriatric mule.
Despite the cases of animal abuse this year, such as animals that are not suitable for work, especially in the rental business, El Refugio del Refugio makes a satisfactory balance this year of the progression of animal welfare problems in El Rocío, and calls on the brotherhoods so that, from within, they do not allow the participation of animals not fit to work in the procession and the competent authorities to regulate rental animal market in El Rocío and other pilgrimages.
We can only continue to rescue and care for donkeys with your help, so please continue to support the work of El Refugio del Burrito, as together, we can make a big difference.