By HENRY OWINO (Senior Science Correspondent)

 World Animal Protection (WAP), whose mandate is to protect all animals from abuse and uphold their welfare, assessed and ranked 50 countries around the globe. The ranking is according to countries’ existing legislation and policy commitments to protecting animals.

The Animal Protection Index (API) has given each country an overall score. These scores fall within scoring bands, where ‘A’ represents the highest results and ‘G’ identifies countries with the most room for improvement.

 In Africa, Kenya and Tanzania lead on animal welfare ranking, scoring D out of a total of nine countries assessed across the continent.  Niger, Nigeria and South Africa followed closely at ‘E’ while Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Ethiopia scored ‘F’ in the third place.

(Courtesy ANAW)Africa Network for Animal Welfare marks World Animal Day

The Animal Protection Index aims to showcase where countries are doing well, and where they fall short on animal welfare policy and legislation, so they can take steps to improve. This could help prevent devastating health epidemics and put in place good animal welfare practices such as keeping animals clean, healthy and with sufficient space to exhibit natural behaviors.

For example, Sweden has legislation in place that bans restrictive sow stall and farrowing crates for pigs, and limits stocking densities for chickens raised for meat, helping to reduce the risk of animal diseases.

The report comes amid China’s Coronavirus pandemic, that scientists suspect has been passed from wildlife to humans as a result of poor animal welfare. Other zoonotic diseases that carry deadly consequences for animals and humans include rabies, salmonella and Ebola, all also inherent to poor animal welfare practices.

Reasons for ranking

Tennyson Williams, Country Director, WAP said the ranking is not meant to shame countries but to remind country governments on need to put legislations in place and remain committed to them.

“API agenda is to hold countries to accountable for governments to act by putting workable legislations and policies in place to protect animals,” Williams said.

Williams revealed Kenya introduced the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act which applies to vertebrates in 1962 and revised in 2012. The Act states; Redeos and animal fights are prohibited, The placement of traps and snares that cause unnecessary suffering to an animal, as well as failing to check on a trapped animal is prohibited, Recreational hunting, including trophy hunting is also prohibited in Kenya.

“Since the API was first published in 2014, the Government of Kenya has endorsed Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare (UDAW) through its Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries in 2016. Kenya should act as an example for other countries to pledge support in principle to UDAW.” Williams affirmed.

While Tanzania government have laws that help farmers safeguard produce without harming elephants, farming in elephant habitats totally prohibited like Mikumi and Tarangire National Parks in Tanzania. They are natural elephant habitats that are close to local farmland that could cause human-wildlife conflicts.

“Our API, which ranks countries on their laws protecting animals, exposes the drastic need for global change. Having this legislation in place has meant that both Kenya and Tanzania have scored a ranking of ‘D’, on the API, which puts them in line with other countries such as the USA, Canada and Japan.” Williams, Country Director, WAP explained.

South Africa was previously ranked ‘D’ but has now slipped and has been ranked ‘E’ on par with Nigeria. South Africa does have the Animal Protection Act (1962) which prohibits animal cruelty on all domestic animals or wild animals in captivity.

The Performing Animals Act (1935), amended in 2016, also requires establishments training animals for performance or training guard dogs, to be licensed. However, protections for wildlife are limited as South Africa’s lifted the domestic ban on rhinoceros horn trade risks fueling the international demand for this product.

(Photo courtesy of WAP) Animal Experts examining goats

Nigeria ranked ‘E’ does not have a dedicated law on animal welfare, although within the Nigeria Criminal Code, animal cruelty is prohibited. For example, animals used for draft purposes cannot be overloaded or overworked, and there is also a national ban on animal fights for entertainments.

Ethiopia scored a lower ranking of ‘F’. The country’s Criminal Code prohibits cruel treatment of animal fights and captive shootings. Yet the legislation does not recognize animal sentience, there is no duty of care to animal owners, limited rights for farm animals, and circuses and other forms of entertainment using animals are allowed.

“Policies that protect animals protect people too. Some African nations are implementing progressive policies, competitive by global standards. Kenya and Tanzania’s approaches should shine as a beacon of possibility, and I hope they strive for continuous improvement.” WAP Country Director said.

The Indicators and categories

Dr Mwenda Mbaka, External Affairs Advisor-Africa said to accurately assess each country in the Animal Protection Index, they were scored on various indicators and categories that cover the most important aspects of animal protection.  The categories include animals in communities, farms, disasters, wild, and animal sentience.

For instance,Presence of animal welfare legislation goal, explores animal protection laws in relation to various categories of animals, namely: farm animals, animals in captivity, companion animals, working animals and animals used for entertainment, animals used for scientific research and wild animals.

Establishment of supportive government bodies’ goal examines government commitment to animal protection. This includes whether there is allocation of responsibility, accountability and resources within government to protect animals.

Dr Mbaka  said the need to support for international animal welfare standards goal, looks at whether the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE)’s animal welfare standards have been incorporated into law or policy, and whether the Government is supportive of the Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare.

“We assessed the animal welfare policies and legislation of 50 countries, and ranked them from A the highest score to G the least,” Dr Mbaka stated.

Shockingly, no country obtained an ‘A’ grade.

Some countries such as Morocco ‘F’, Iran ‘G’, Algeria ‘F’, and Belarus ‘F’ were found to still be missing the basic legal framework needed to protect animals, and others do not formally recognize animal sentience in their existing legislation.

(Photo courtesy of WAP) Animal Experts rescuing stray cats

Sweden, Switzerland, Netherland, Denmark, United Kingdom and Austria are rated with the highest scores ‘B’ respectively, which is encouraging. Most countries in Europe did very well and so, more countries need to follow their lead.

“We are calling on all governments to immediately improve their animal welfare standards, not only for the benefit of animals, but also to reduce the risk to public health,” Dr Mbaka urged.

In America only Mexico scored ‘C’ while other assessed performed as Kenya and Tanzania in Africa.

“Severe animal welfare concerns from intensive farming, wildlife markets and associated trade are all proven threats of disease outbreak, such as the most recent global epidemic, Coronavirus,” he advised.

The API found that China, USA, Vietnam, Egypt, Azerbaijan and Belarus need to do more to protect animals and people from the threat of zoonotic diseases.

“This global threat will continue for as long as there is no effective legislation and preventative measures to control the emerging threat to animal and people’s health,” Dr Mbaka cautioned.

Beyond public health, these systems which put everyone at risk are causing immense suffering and cruelty to billions of animals every year.

“We need to build a better world for animals and people, but this won’t be possible until we stop treating animals as commodities.” Dr Mbaka alluded.