In November, a group of 2 vets and 5 vet students travelled to the Gili Islands in Indonesia to conduct a free veterinary clinic for the working cart ponies on the islands. The 2 vets, Dr Kirsten Jackson from Dental Vet in Perth and Dr Paul Owens from Horse Vet Dentist in Melbourne and 5 veterinary students from Murdoch University, Tova Pinsky, Maria-Louisa Pots, Sarah Mclay, Caitlin Hutcheson and Laura McLeay all volunteered for a week of hard work to help the ponies!
During the week the group, along with Delphine Robbe from the Gili Eco Trust, Sarah Best from Trawangan Dive, Tori Taylor from Lutwala Dive/ Horses of Gili and many other volunteers treated 257 ponies on Gili Trawangan, Gili Air and Gili Meno. During the clinics, ponies were wormed, given vitamins, wounds were treated, management was discussed with the owners and more padding and girth covers were given as needed- 400kg of donations were received for the clinics! The vets and vet students also worked hard treating the ponies for dental problems, doing 87 dentals in 5 days! We were also very lucky to be joined by Dr Lisa Stelzmayer, another veterinary dentist from Vienna and Dr Claudia Skinner, another vet from Australia for our day on Gili Meno! The students were pretty spoilt with 4 vets teaching 5 students!
The most common injuries were lip lacerations from the home made ‘bits’ used by most of the drivers. There were also a lot of girth wounds and rub wounds, some heat stress and diarrhoea cases and lots of hoof problems. Unfortunately no farriers were available this trip but we are looking into getting a farrier over to train up someone locally to be the farrier for the island so they can make a living and improve the ponies’ welfare at the same time! Unfortunately a lame pony doesn’t last long on Gili so a hoof problem can often be a death sentence so hoof care is a very important welfare issue.
It was a very busy and exhausting but rewarding week for all involved. It was heartbreaking at times, particularly with the rubbish ponies. These are the ponies that cart the rubbish around the island and are some of the hardest working ponies on the islands. During peak tourist season they cart around 20 tonnes of rubbish between 10-12 ponies from businesses to the huge pile of rubbish in the centre of the island. They work incredibly hard and the donations from Animal Aid Abroad for proper feed to help them maintain condition has made a huge difference, they were in much better condition than last year. Many people might remember ‘Oscar’, the rubbish pony from last year who was on death’s door- emaciated, horrific wounds and mentally broken, I didn’t know whether he would survive but we took him away and allowed him to recover and he blossomed given some time off in a grassy paddock. It was bittersweet seeing him again- fantastic that he is still around (although he had a very close call being sent off for meat- was literally at the abattoir in Lombok, it was only Delphine’s keen eye and a bit of luck with the timing that she noticed he was gone and managed to get him back!), but sad seeing him back at work in his tiny concrete stall.
This year the rubbish ponies were in much better shape but there was still one pony in particular that broke our hearts. It was our last day and we went to say goodbye to the rubbish ponies before we left. There was a pony, underweight and with a nasty shoulder wound from where the harness was rubbing, standing with his head down in the back corner. When he heard us coming (we had some grass and were feeding them), he came over, but he didn’t even eat the grass, he just stood with his eyes closed, rested his muzzle on my arm and nuzzled my forearm, he just wanted a cuddle. It just broke me, that after everything he has been through and what has been done to him, that same harness being put on over that wound to rub it again, being pushed and whipped to work through the pain, not fed enough for the amount of work he has to do, he still comes over for a pat and a cuddle. Paul and I were both really affected and it was a very quiet (bike!) ride home. We decided to call him ‘Berharap’- Indonesian for hope (‘Bert’ for short) as hope was all we could do that he would be looked after and not sent off for meat. Delphine has taken him away for some respite so he is getting some time off and we are hoping to be able to come up with a long term solution for him.
Delphine is working very hard talking to the government about solar powered/ electric/ petrol if possible carts to collect the rubbish as the workload is just too much for the ponies and they really suffer as a result.
It was a great trip and was great exposure and a great learning experience for the students. Some much happier ponies in the short term and if we can keep pushing towards phasing out the ponies, in particular the rubbish ponies then hopefully we can have a lasting impact on the lives of future ponies as well.
Animal Aid Abroad will continue to support the working horses on the Gili Islands, especially the rubbish collecting ponies. Our commitment in 2017 is to increase funding for proper feed, provide more equipment eg.harnesses and raise funds for alternative forms of transport. Thank you to all our wonderful donors, supporters and volunteers like Kirsten, Paul plus Murdoch vet students - Tova, Maria-Louisa, Sarah Mclay, Caitlin and Laura.