The small island of Taal volcano is home to about 5,000 people and as many as 1,300 working horses. Swarms of tourists flock to Taal – many of them on package tours – to climb the volcano, which is about 2 hours from Manila and is known as the most active in the Philippines. Package tours almost always seem to include a horse ride to the top and very few tourists walk up the trail.
The conditions for the horses used for trekking are disturbing. The animals, many of whom are still juveniles and most of whom are malnourished and underweight, climb the steep mountain side without any rest. They stumble on the rocks, and are made to battle their physical exhaustion with the threat of a whip. When they get to the top, there are no food and water troughs waiting, instead they are only granted a few minutes of rest before they are forced to start the dangerous trek back down. Horses who live on the island but are not used for trekking are kept for hauling water and supplies.
As the island is isolated and far from main cities, and the majority of the residents live in poverty, these horses never receive veterinary care, and the local horse owners never received appropriate education on how to care for their horses. When the horses are not being used to climb the volcano, they are tied to trees or posts in mud-filled lots in all weather extremes. Often, these horses are restrained so that they cannot lower their heads. Lying down is commonly impossible. Some horses develop wounds from poorly fitting harnesses.
In partnership with PETA-Asia, International Veterinary Outreach (IVO) would like to run a pilot project in February 2017 to improve the lives of a portion of the Taal Volcano horses for one year.
We’d like to provide up to 300 horses, those working in the worst conditions, with dental care, vaccinations (tetanus, rabies), endoparasite (intestinal worms) control, ectoparasite (flies, ticks, lice) control, and hoof care. We’d also conduct an education seminar on the island to educate horse owners on how to properly care for their horses.
In addition to the team that IVO sends of experienced equine veterinary professionals, PETA plans to hire two or three local veterinarians in the hope that they can carry on this valuable work long after IVO leaves.
IVO also plans to perform a comprehensive animal welfare and public health assessment relevant to the working horses and the communities on the Taal Volcano Island.
As a part of its mission, International Veterinary Outreach focuses to develop and implement sustainable veterinary services and training programs in underserved communities worldwide. The eventual goals of this project will be to prioritize and address the most major animal welfare issues with community education and to collaborate with and train local Filipino veterinarians to provide sustainable veterinary services to the communities of Taal.
At least one or two of the local veterinarians who are present on the first trip will continue to get involved in all future Taal projects. Over time, IVO will plan to prepare the local veterinarians to take on all future veterinary service responsibilities in Taal.