Charity works to prevent African horse sickness from entering Cambodia

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A pony decorated for a festival in Cambodia. Working ponies are widely used by rural communities for transporting people, water and goods. © World Horse Welfare

An international equine charity is working with horse and pony owners in Cambodia to help prevent African horse sickness from entering the country, following an outbreak in neighboring Thailand earlier this year.

In February, Thailand was the center of the first African horse sickness (AHS) outbreak in the Asia-Pacific region for more than 50 years. Death rates were very high, so there were real concerns about the spread of the disease to neighboring countries, including Cambodia, where around 30,000 working ponies support their families’ livelihoods.

African horse sickness had never been seen in Thailand before; it is caused by a virus and transmitted by infected biting insects. The outbreak was first seen in a group of racehorses in March, with at least 42 deaths. Since then, the media have estimated more than 500 horses succumbed to the disease.

With the support of the Cambodian government and in collaboration with the Cambodia Pony Welfare Organization, the World Horse Welfare project team worked with isolated communities to raise awareness of the disease and support practical prevention measures.

In April, the team helped more than 200 ponies and their families in Cambodian provinces bordering Thailand by helping them cover barns with insecticide-impregnated shade nets. They also provided clear messages about AHS symptoms so owners know what to look out for. The team continues to monitor the situation closely and remains in contact with the pony owners in the area.

Many of these ponies have poor welfare conditions due to a complex array of issues including poor nutrition, management and handling practices. The genocide in Cambodia in 1975 meant that rebuilding knowledge and skills among the population will take time and resources, including the services people need to care for their animals.

The charity said many of its project countries face test situations over the next few months, and although routine project activities are largely on hold, its teams are supporting owners remotely and deal with emergencies when it is safe. Food aid programs are also being developed to help provide subsidized fodder where it is most needed.

Learn more about the work of World Horse Welfare in Cambodia

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