Data on Working Equids

Policy makers can’t make informed policy decisions without reliable data on equine populations. Our research highlights data challenges and recommendations for governments.

There are an estimated 116 million equines (donkeys, horses and mules) globally, with 36 million in the 38 lowest-income countries. But accurate population data is lacking for many countries. This gap means that governments and organisations can’t spot worrying trends and threats to equine populations, such as illegal trades and diseases.

Policy makers need reliable data to make informed decisions to better support working animals’ welfare and their communities’ livelihoods. Data is also essential for disease surveillance and epidemiological research, as well as responding to wider threats like climate change, water access and food insecurity.

Working animals are not prioritised enough in programming and policy making. There is minimal funding for much-needed research to inform evidence-based policy and promote sustainable development.

Our research report explores 36 countries’ last censuses to highlight challenges for governments, and provide recommendations. There are also case studies on China, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Mexico, Senegal and the UK.

36 countries’ last censuses

Countries are supposed to report their livestock or agricultural data to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) every 10 years. Our research examined 36 countries (all UN member states) to determine how recently governments carried out a livestock or agricultural census. We found that:

  • Only 14 countries have conducted a census since 2011
  • 11 countries implemented a censuses in the past 11-15 years
  • 4 countries in the past 16 to 20 years
  • 4 countries over 20 years ago
  • 2 countries have no census history


Governments in lower-income countries often lack the capacity to regularly gather quality data. The data collected varies in quality, consistency and accuracy. This means livestock data can’t be compared to other data sets, and is infrequently incorporated into national agricultural statistics.

Current livestock data can provide overall trends, but only offers minimal insight into equids’ socio-economic contributions to development, emerging threats and cross-border movements. Donkey populations are vulnerable and under pressure. Some national populations are clearly collapsing, despite the scarcity of accurate data.

Recommendations for governments

  1. Classify working equids as livestock, so that equids are counted as part of livestock censuses.
  2. Link equids with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), so equids are included in countries’ reports on progress towards the goals in UN processes.   
  3. Report regularly to the FAO.
  4. Improve censuses, by embracing regulatory frameworks, checking data quality and building staff’s capacity for data gathering. More frequent mini-censuses and other data gathering activities should be undertaken.
  5. Use technological systems that identify and trace livestock for more transparent information on trade, food security and illegal cross border movement.
  6. Collaborate and share data with other actors, including public institutions, private sector and civil society organisations.

Working equids in numbers: why data matters for policy

Read our full report, A Landscaping Analysis of Working Equid Population Numbers in LMICs, with Policy Recommendations, here.

Read the brief, which includes case studies on China, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Mexico, Senegal and the UK, below.