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A SPANA vet treating a working donkey in Zimbabwe © SPANA

A SPANA vet treating a working donkey in Zimbabwe © SPANA

SPANA Highlights The Deadly Threat Of Plastic Pollution To Working Animals On International Working Animal Day

1 year ago

13th June, 2023 12h47


On this year’s International Working Animal Day (15 June), global animal charity SPANA (the Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad) is raising awareness about the devastating impact of plastic pollution on working animals in countries across the world. 

The global explosion in plastic pollution is posing a deadly threat for working animals, threatening the health and survival of many animals. In many low-income countries, there is often limited waste collection or rubbish is not disposed of properly, leaving discarded plastic and hazardous materials littering communities.  

The cost of living crisis, coupled with growing global inequality, is making it harder for owners to afford feed for their animals. As a result, hungry animals are desperately grazing for food in rubbish dumps and fields full of litter. These animals can accidentally ingest plastic, putting them at severe risk from internal blockages and life-threatening conditions such as colic.  

In response, SPANA is providing vital care and support to working animals affected by plastic pollution. Last year, SPANA teams delivered lifesaving veterinary treatment to 306,412 working animals in low-income countries across the world. The charity is also working with owners, highlighting the dangers of plastic waste to their animals. 

Linda Edwards, Chief Executive of SPANA, said: ‘Sadly, there is very little awareness about the deadly impact of plastic waste on working animals across the world.  

‘In vulnerable communities, plastic waste is threatening the survival of working donkeys, horses, camels and other animals dedicated to supporting people's livelihoods. With economic pressures now building across the globe, many hungry working animals are supplementing their minimal feed by grazing in areas which expose them to toxic plastics, sharp needles and plastic bags and bottles.  The impact on working animals can be life-threatening, and is often fatal without urgent intervention.  

‘SPANA works across the world to provide critical support to working animals threatened by plastic pollution and other environmental and human-induced crises. Through essential veterinary care, we are able to offer a lifeline to animals in desperate need.   

‘We are working to transform the welfare of working animals in a world where animals, people and the environment are respected and thrive.’ 

John Craven OBE, Patron of SPANA, said: ‘Plastic pollution is a severe and worsening danger for working animals across the world.  

‘In the countries where SPANA works, hungry working animals often consume plastic accidentally while grazing and scavenging for food, due to the sheer volume of litter. Plastic waste can cause major problems with the digestive system and lead to life-threatening conditions.  

‘Please join me this International Working Animal Day and support SPANA’s lifesaving work, providing working animals with the care and support they need.’ 

The latest data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows that 353 million tonnes of plastic waste were generated globally in 2019, with only nine per cent of plastic waste recycled.  

The issue of mismanaged plastic waste – plastic that is either littered, or not disposed of properly – is a huge problem, particularly in low-income countries. For instance, Zimbabwe is estimated to produce 35.8kg of mismanaged plastic waste per capita each year, compared to 0.4kg in the UK and 0.07kg in Denmark. This is placing working animals in low-income countries at even greater risk. 

Colic is one of the most common problems treated by SPANA’s veterinary teams. The life-threatening condition can be caused by eating plastic and foreign objects. Without urgent treatment, working horses, donkeys and mules can have little chance of surviving. 

Globally, an estimated 200 million working animals support the livelihoods of families in low-income communities, through such activities as transporting water, goods, firewood – and even rubbish and plastic waste itself. However, working animals often face difficult lives and poor welfare, working in extreme conditions, with no available veterinary care when they are sick or injured. 

SPANA works to transform the welfare of working animals across the world, through global activities that include ensuring the provision of veterinary treatment, training for owners in animal care and the teaching of animal welfare for children. 

On International Working Animal Day, find out how you can show your support for working animals by visiting

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