The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) and the National Council of SPCAs’ (NSPCA) have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU), described as “ground-breaking” by the animal protection and welfare organisation.
“It is believed this MOU signalling a new level of co-operation between the military and an animal welfare organisation is unprecedented, even internationally,” the NSPCA said.
“The purpose of the MOU is to recognise both parties share a common interest in the care and welfare of animals used in the military and in service of the country.”
The NSPCA recognises the necessity for animals to be deployed in providing security and the SANDF, in turn, recognises that animals in its possession benefit from quality care and responsible use.
While not stated, it is probable the MOU follows a 2012 interim High Court order granted to the animal welfare organisation following allegations of mistreatment of mainly horses at the SA Army Specialised Infantry Capability (SAASIC) at Potchefstroom in North West.
More than 50 horses were inspected by two NSPCA equine specialists. Welfare concerns such as the provision of hoof care, nutrition, suitable shelter and attention to medical conditions as well as the timely treatment of injuries were all discussed at length. Injuries and concerns were noted and subsequently dealt with by SANDF personnel.
“The military has committed to open lines of communication with the NSPCA as regards animals in their care. An agreement of mutual interaction and information sharing will ensure no animal’s welfare is ever compromised and animals aiding in the protection of South Africa’s borders receive all the necessary care and commitment,” NSPCA’s Wendy Willson said at the time.
Another outcome was an undertaking by the animal health directorate of SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) to work closely with the NSPCA on animal welfare issues.
The MOU entered into now includes the undertaking that the SANDF “shall permit only NSPCA inspectors to inspect all SANDF locations where military animals are held, deployed or receive medical attention”. Reciprocal protocols include an NSPCA undertaking for only senior NSPCA inspectors to work with defence force animals, mostly dogs and horses.
The MOU makes provision for the establishment of an animal ethics committee to monitor, inspect and assess, among others, acquisition, transport, housing, care and use of military animals.
Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) will also be established in collaboration with the NSPCA and will be regularly reviewed and updated. According to the NSPCA established procedures are aimed to meet or exceed national and international animal care standards and it will be compulsory for military personnel to adhere to them.
In terms of the MOU the SANDF will maintain what the NSPCA terms the “five freedoms”.
These are: freedom from hunger and thirst by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour; freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable rest area; freedom from pain, injury or disease by prevention through speedy diagnosis and treatment; freedom to express normal behaviour by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind and freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.
defenceWeb has been informed the numbers of animals in service cannot be divulged because dogs and horses are deployed operationally as military assets. The SANDF uses dogs and horses to patrol South Africa’s borders, track animal poachers and sniff out drugs and contraband, among other duties.