Thailand Hit by African Horse Sickness

Dozens to as many as 100 dead

Definitively identified by Thai veterinarians on March 27, this represents the first outbreak of AHS outside the African continent in more than 30 years.

Posted by Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA, THE HORSE magazine online reports:

An outbreak of African Horse Sickness (AHS) in Thailand has caused at least 42 horse deaths out of 62 cases as of March 30, according to Thailand Equestrian Federation (TEF) reports. In response, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) has suspended the country’s AHS-free zone status.

Definitively identified by Thai veterinarians on March 27, this represents the first reported outbreak of AHS outside the African continent and Yemen in more than 30 years. In the late 1980s, the disease spread to Spain and Portugal, presumably via a herd of zebras imported into a Spanish zoo, and led to more than 3,000 deaths of primarily riding horses.

A fatal viral disease spread by various vectors including Culicoides–tiny, blood-sucking midges—and certain mosquitoes, AHS affects horses, mules, and donkeys and potentially dogs and camels. Horses are most susceptible to AHS, with a 75-90% mortality rate, said Polly Roy, MSc, PhD, FMedSci, professor of virology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, where her team is developing vaccines based on reverse genetics and proteins.

AHS’s sudden appearance in a country 4,000 miles across the Indian Ocean from the disease’s native endemic zone is “of great concern,” said Monique Eloit, DVM, director general of the OIE.

“(This) impacts the health and welfare of equine populations as well as international trade (or movements of horses for competition),” Eloit told The Horse. “The OIE Regional and Sub Regional Representations, in Tokyo and Bangkok respectively, are in close contact with the Veterinary Services of Thailand and neighboring countries to provide technical assistance, in the current context of spread of AHS outside its endemic areas in Africa. Regular updates on the situation from Thailand are expected to be communicated.” Continue reading »

The Thaiger reports that the dead horses are racehorses. The Bangkok Post reports that “dozens of horses have died” of African sickness, while the Strait Times published 9 hours ago states “over 100 horses killed”.

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Horse racing off and on

Horses jump out the gate at Penn National racecourse.

Horse racing is continuing in many parts of the world despite the Coronavirus threat. However, more race venues are beginning to cease racing. While these track closures continue, there is great concern about what racehorse owners will do with horses who are not racing. It is a costly enterprise maintaining a racehorse, and no one has a clue how long this will go on.

Here’s news of a recent racecourse closure. The Guardian reports:

Fears for animal welfare as first Australian state bans horse and dog racing amid coronavirus crisis

Tasmania has banned horse and greyhound racing “effective immediately” in the latest wave of shutdowns intended to stop the spread of the coronavirus, while the racing industry in other states is quietly trying to make arrangements to house thousands of furloughed racehorses should the ban become national.

Tasmanian premier Peter Gutwein announced the ban on Thursday, cancelling all race meetings for four weeks but allowing training facilities and people responsible for the care and wellbeing of the animals to continue operating.

Explaining the decision, which followed an outbreak of Covid-19 in the regional hub of Devonport, Gutwein said he was concerned that large groups of people were continuing to gather at the races, even though spectators have been banned.

New South Wales Greens senator Mehreen Faruqi has called on other states to follow Tasmania’s lead, saying it was “absolutely crazy that greyhound and horse racing is continuing in the middle of a global pandemic”.

Other Cancellations

 Ireland shut down racing last week, following the United Kingdom. Hong Kong and Japan are still running.

Racing Victoria said it would continue racing after Victoria introduced tough stage-three social distancing laws this week. Jamie Stier, the executive general manager of integrity services, said the industry was “continually reviewing our biosecurity protocols” and “learning from our collective experiences over the past three weeks”.

Both thoroughbred and harness racing was suspended last week due to coronavirus scares, but the sport resumed when tests were returned negative.

Churchill Downs’ blog,, published the following on Mar. 12:

“A number of jurisdictions are conducting racing without spectators, including Hong Kong, Australia*, and Japan.

“Live racing has been canceled in South Korea (through April 5), France (at least through April 15), Ireland (through April 19)**, New Zealand (through April 21), South Africa (through April 17), India (all tracks for an indefinite period), South America (Uruguay indefinitely), and Mexico (indefinitely)”.

*Except Tasmania. **Shut down last week (see above). Our notes.


There are 35 active racetracks in the USA. It is hard to keep up, but there are some running. Most of those are racing without spectators. Santa Anita was recently shut down by the Los Angeles County Health Department. Other racing in California continues.

Racehorses in peril

RSPCA chief scientist Bidda Jones said it was “inevitable” that horse racing would be suspended in Australia.

“Nobody quite knows what the capacity is for farms to take horses leaving racing because we’ve never been in a position whereby, if there was a shutdown of racing, so many would be leaving at one time,” he said.

Jones added however that a shutdown posed “a huge risk” to horse welfare and the industry needed to prepare so it was not attempting to retire a large number of horses at once.

Julie Fiedler from Horse SA said that widespread job losses caused by the shutdown of the hospitality industry and other coronavirus control measures would cause a “silent animal welfare tsunami” as people became unable to afford to care for their horses. Major saleyards such as Echuca and Pakenham in Victoria have suspended their horse sales, leaving knackeries the only option for a quick sale.

“If it goes on for an extended period of time, people are going to have to reevaluate the cost of keeping a horse,” she said.

At the mercy of racing

So what should and what will horse racing do about the horses? Here racehorses are, yet again, in peril at the mercy of racing.

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Related Reading

» Despite coronavirus lockdown, horses were still racing at Sacramento’s Cal Expo. Until now. Sacramento Bee. 1 April 20.

Ky Thoroughbred industry refers to breeding as assembly line production

Protective Thoroughbred mare and young foal huddle together in pasture.

Check out this tweet. How do you feel about comparing the production of horses to the assembly line production of automobiles?

Canada is a go-to source of horsemeat. These activists are trying to change that.

According to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) documents obtained by the CHDC and provided to VICE, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) banned shipping draft horses—a breed that can weigh more than a thousand pounds. Canadian Horse Defence Coalition image.


The Canadian Horse Defence Coalition is waging a court battle to end Canada’s role as an exporter of live horses and frozen horsemeat for human consumption

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By Adrienne Tanner | March 30, 2020

Shannon Mann sat in the woods, well supplied with food, toilet paper and her video camera, waiting for the trucks to pick up horses bound for slaughterhouses in Asia, where their meat is considered a delicacy. She had combed the Alberta countryside using Google Earth to locate the horse feedlot, two hours south of Calgary. From her hiding spot, Mann, an equestrian turned animal rights activist, watched the gates for eight hours until the trucks arrived. By then, she was accustomed to long stakeouts. She’d spent hundreds of hours in a parking lot adjacent to the Calgary airport filming crates of Belgian-cross draft horses being loaded into the belly of planes headed for slaughter, mostly in Japan. “At that time in my life I was very determined,” recalls Mann, who later volunteered for Sea Shepherd, the ocean conservation group known for high seas confrontations with whaling vessels.

Mann had read the Canadian animal-health regulations which require horses over 14 hands high to be shipped solo in containers large enough to allow them to stand in a natural posture. But she had routinely observed groups of three or four large horses being loaded into one crate with ceilings so low their ears poked through the top. “There was no way they had enough room,” she says. She condensed her footage into a three-minute YouTube video and in 2012 gave it to Sinikka Crosland at the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition, an animal rights group lobbying to stop the slaughter of horses. Here, thought Crosland, was the perfect opportunity to raise awareness for their cause.

The footage circulated among activists for years, building support for a court case that is now drawing unwelcome attention to Canada’s role in the horsemeat market—a trade activists in the United States succeeded in shutting down more than a decade ago. In 2018, nearly 3,400 live horses were flown abroad from Canada to become food for humans. Almost all went to Japan where their meat is sliced thin and eaten raw like sashimi, layered over rice or cooked in hot pots. It’s a market that for decades operated out of the public eye—perhaps because its participants feared how it would be viewed. One of Canada’s horsemeat producers is quick to defend the trade to Maclean’s but so afraid of becoming a target of activists, he would only speak on condition of anonymity. “Horses are livestock in Canada and should be considered the same as other livestock,” he says. His business provides a “humane service and financial gain” to horse owners who need to get rid of their animals, he adds: “Euthanizing them may cost thousands of dollars for vet fees, medication, and disposal fees.”

Many Canadians don’t see it that way; they regard horses as companion animals more akin to dogs than livestock. They find the idea of eating them repellent. From coast to coast, horse rescue groups are at work to save as many as possible from auction houses where they are sold for slaughter.

But finding a way to end the trade has proven challenging, so Crosland’s organization has instead taken aim at how the animals are transported—with photos from Mann and other activists as evidence. The Federal Court challenge claims the Canadian government is violating its own animal welfare regulations by allowing the transportation of large horses in containers that are too small and crowded.

The case has already drawn levels of attention and outrage that years of conventional public awareness campaigning never did. Continue reading article »

See also the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition website at »

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