The number of abandoned or otherwise neglected donkeys has significantly increased in Ireland in the recent past. The real or perceived capacity of the donkey to act as a reservoir of equine infectious disease, and thus pose an increased risk of disease transmission to horses and ponies, may be a factor in this increased abandonment and neglect. The authors here report on a field study exploring the infectious disease transmission threat the donkey poses to the general equine industry in Ireland through an examination of biosecurity standards and the views of horse and donkey exhibitors at nine mixed equestrian events in 2014. Quantitative information was gathered via the organising committee (if any) and through an examination of facilities and procedures. Qualitative information was gathered using a semi-structured questionnaire to ascertain the view of exhibitors regarding the keeping of donkeys and any infectious disease transmission risks posed.
At eight of nine events visited there were no entrance controls, no veterinary examinations, no enforcement of legislation regarding equine identification and equine premises registration and no isolation facilities on site for equids. Contact between donkeys and other equids was largely uncontrolled. Exhibitors had travelled from abroad to one event. Exhibitors generally opined that they did not perceive the donkey to represent any additional infectious disease transmission threat above that posed by other equids; there was however a general sense that donkeys were less well regarded for other reasons including nuisance and uselessness.
When biosecurity controls are not in place (or enforced) to actually check passports, verify identification and equine premises registration, mixed equestrian events may unwittingly act as the mechanism of spread of endemic and potentially more seriously exotic equine infectious disease. Donkeys were not generally considered by equine exhibitors at mixed events in Ireland to represent a heightened reservoir of disease or to pose an increased risk of transmission of contagious disease suggesting that other factors should be considered more important when studying the incidence of abandonment and neglect.