Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

The science on suffering: Travelling (2)

Posted: 17 May 2006

2.2 Domestic Species

There are a multitude of studies on the transportation of horses and of other animals commonly used in agriculture, and this data can be read across to the travelling circus situation.

2.2.1 Horses

Horses are kept in travelling circuses, yet evidence shows that horses suffer during transportation. Equine expert and veterinary behaviourist, Paul McGreevy, discusses transportation of horses in his book ‘Equine behaviour – a guide for veterinarians and equine scientists’:

“Horses brace themselves against and in anticipation of the changes in momentum during road transport by adopting certain body postures (notably the base wide stance). Efforts expended by horses as they continually adjust their posture during transit reflect both muscular and emotional stress related to road conditions and the drivers’ behaviour. All of these efforts are readily evaluated by monitoring heart rates during transport. Horses have been shown to have higher heart rates in a moving vehicle than in a stationary vehicle, and although heart rates decreased significantly during a road journey, they did not return to resting levels. Transport stress may increase susceptibility to diseases, including an equine herpes virus and salmonellosis infections” (McGreevy, 2004).

  • A study on the effects of 24 hour transport in horses showed that “Plasma cortisol concentration increased during loading and the first 3 hours of transport and continued to rise throughout the 24 hours, to peak at the termination of transport…after the stressor (i.e. transportation) ceased, cortisol dramatically declined” (Stull & Rodiek, 2000).
  • Many studies show that transport induces weight loss in some animals. Immediately following transit in one study, the horses showed a 6% weight loss, which they thought could be due to “heat dissipation, sweat loss, and decreased gut fill during transit” but there was still a 3% deficiency in weight loss 24 hours after the transportation period (Stull & Rodiek, 2000).
  • The immune system of horses is compromised by the effects of transportation. Stull and Rodiek (2000) conclude that this could result in increased susceptibility of the horses to infectious diseases. Another similar study by Stull et al. (2004), found elevations in cortisol concentration, white blood cell count and other physiological changes which led to the same conclusion. It also acknowledges that “a small window of immunological uncertainty follows long-term transportation, enhancing the potential risk of infectious disease in susceptible individuals”.
  • Aggression among horses is increased during transportation, especially when many horses are transported together (Collins et al., 2000). It has been shown that about 20% of all horses receive some type of injury during transportation, most of which occurs to the head and face (Stull (1999) in Speer et al., (2001)). Another paper reports “many incidences of aggressive horses repeatedly biting an adjacent horse in an apparent effort to get the horse to move away” (Collins et al., 2000).

ADI observation data has included evidence of aggression in horses during transport, and in stable tents. Some animals cannot use exercise enclosures when these are provided, if they are aggressive or difficult (e.g. stallions).

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