A team of experts has begun training Cambodians on how to combat a deadly parasite found in ponies, which can also kill cows and buffalo.
Animal experts from the Cambodia Pony Welfare Organisation are putting on a workshop this week to train 34 vets on how to prevent and treat the parasite, known as Surra. It was first officially identified in the Kingdom in Takeo province in March, when two ponies died.
Surra is also believed to have been responsible for an outbreak in the province’s Borei Cholsar district last year, which left 36 ponies dead.
According to CPWO, around 14,775 ponies are kept in Cambodia, with 1,553 in Takeo province.
Hang Piseth, who is in charge of Animal Science and Veterinary Medicine of CPWO, has previous brought concerns about the parasite to the government.
He said the training would provide veterinary professionals with more information about preventing and treating Surra, and expressed hope that pony owners would then have more confidence in seeking appropriate treatment or medical advice.
“Some pony owners began to feel scared of that disease after their ponies died. They don’t want to raise ponies anymore because they think no vets can treat their ponies when they get sick,” Hang Piseth said.
Siraya Chunekamrai, founder of Thailand’s Lampang Pony Welfare Foundation, which works with CPWO, explained that the parasite can kill horses within two weeks and cows within months.
“The disease can be passed from cattle to the horses through large flies. When they bite an animal that suffers from Surra and then bite a horse, they can bring parasite to the horse,” she said.
Such flies are prevalent just at the onset of the rainy season.
“Signs of Surra are a high temperature, depression, swelling in the legs, under belly or neck of the horse. Horses also have spots on the eyelids and get weak and lie down,” she added.
Siraya warned pony owners to be careful because even though cattle do not show any signs of the disease, unlike horses, they can be the source of infection.
Medicine aimed at treating the parasite in cattle can be fatal in horses, she said, and recommended a treatment called Quinapyramine Prosalt for ponies.
“But Quinapyramine Prosalt is toxic, hard to find and is expensive. That’s why the purpose of our workshop is to concentrate on prevention,” said Siraya.
Hang Piseth suggested that people keep their ponies about 150 meters away from cattle and put them inside mosquito nets when they sleep at night.
All cattle, cows or buffalos in the region where Surra has been reported should be vaccinated, he added. CPWO has also offered to treat animals suffering from the condition free of charge.
Sok Daro, the deputy office programme coordinator at the Takeo provincial Department of Agriculture, said officials recognised how important ponies can be for farmers.
“We began to pay attention to [Surra] because ponies play a very important role for farmers. They pull carts to transport goods from the house to the market and vice versa,” he said.
But some horse owners, such as 29-year-old Sann Sokhorm, are still counting the cost of previous animal losses.
The cart driver from Romenh commune in Koh Andet distict said that his pony fell sick after being attacked by flies during a trip to a nearby village. One day later, it had a high temperature and wouldn’t eat.
“I feel scared to raise another pony after my previous one died. It costs me thousands of dollars. Many horses died at the same time, and no vet could treat any one of the sick,” Sann Sokhorm said.