by Vanessa Papas
Horses are some of the noblest creatures on this planet – strong, stunning and free. Yet they are often subjected to horrific cruelty. Tragically, the South African government has one of the poorest justice systems worldwide when it comes to the rights of animals. In a case that has send shock waves through the community of Bloemfontein, 68 horses were found on a plot just outside Hobhouse – a small farming town in the Free State – on the brink of death. Even more concerning is the fact that these horses belong to the Lesotho Government’s military unit.
Reinet Meyer, Senior Inspector at the Bloemfontein SPCA, explains that the Society went to investigate the property in question after receiving complaints that horses were dying of hunger and recently returned for a follow up inspection. The horses were on the South African side of the border and the SPCA obtained authority from a magistrate to work there and to remove the animals. “We found six horses that were already dead. A further three horses were flat on the ground and very poor. These three horses breathed a lot and were in terrible pain and suffering. They couldn’t get up at all and were terribly weak and starving. The horses were completely dehydrated. Euthanasia was promptly administered to them by the Bloemfontein SPCA inspectors,” says Inspector Meyer. “In the camp where the horses were, there was absolutely no food or grass to eat. The horses were terribly exasperated and starving. They just stood there and there was absolutely no emotion in them. The horses were so depressing. They just stayed in one place in the field and did not move at all. Their heads just hung and there was no emotion or feeling in the horses. They couldn’t live the five freedoms at all.”
The five freedoms Meyer is referring to are internationally accepted standards of care that affirm every living being’s right to humane treatment. Freedom from hunger and thirst by ready access to fresh water and diet to maintain health and vigour; freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area; freedom from pain, injury or disease; freedom to express normal behaviour and freedom from fear and distress. “After further investigation, we found the horses belonged to the Lesotho Government’s army. There was only one commander on duty on the farm who had to look after all the animals. There was no veterinarian to give treatment to the animals who were ill or those who were dying. The whole farm’s field was extremely poor and completely over-crowded. The general condition of the horses was shocking. Some were completely blind, while others struggled to see. Some had cancer crops on them and many of their hooves were severely damaged and they really struggled to walk. Some of them also showed signs of lameness and skin conditions. Many of the horses also showed mucus at their noses,” adds Meyer.
The horses were confiscated and are currently in the care of the Bloemfontein SPCA. Unfortunately, due to the condition of a number of them, several had to be euthanasized. Tebogo Maswanganye, Inspector of the Bloemfontein SPCA, confirmed a complaint of animal cruelty will be laid against all parties involved. “It such a shame that so many horses can die because of hunger while they are under the care of humans. It’s shocking,” said Maswangany.
Sadly, it’s not the first time a military unit has been embroiled in animal cruelty allegations. Last year veterinarians were called in to help improve the care given to the SA army’s horses‚ following the startling announcement that some had to be put down due to starvation. The South African National Defence Force confirmed the euthanisation of 25 of its horses at the South African Army Specialised Infantry Capability unit in Potchefstroom‚ due to compromised health. The military said it had instituted remedial actions to alleviate the plight of the horses under its care and relocated 60 horse to another army base in Pretoria. In May this year, it was reported that more than ten of the 60 horses which the SANDF transferred had died. It is unconfirmed as to what caused the deaths but many agree they likely died from prevalent diseases specific to this area such as African Horse Sickness, Equine Piroplasmosis and Equine Encephalosis Virus.