Donkeys are among the most misunderstood and neglected animals despite their contribution to people’s livelihoods over the millennia. Rural life in Sub-Saharan Africa, including Ethiopia, is highly linked to donkey power utilization. For some, life without a donkey is impossible. Ethiopian farmers say “A farmer without a donkey is a donkey himself ’’.
Human beings have always been interacting with animals of different species from time immemorial to present. The positive interaction between human and animals can be harnessed to improve the physical, mental and psychological wellbeing of humans. Studies indicated that animal human interaction can have the following positive effects on humans of different age groups with and without special medical or mental health conditions.
Schools are the best hubs where the personality of the future generations is shaped depending on the comprehensiveness of the existing curriculum. However, currently, animal welfare education does not form part of the national curriculum in Ethiopia. The donkey sanctuary Ethiopia works with relevant parties to address this gap through session based animal welfare education to target grade students and establishing animal welfare clubs. The Donkey Sanctuary developed animal welfare education handbook and facilitate teachers training on animal welfare so as to support the session based education.
The source of potential professionals to bring change in any development sector is the university. In Ethiopia, livestock are one of the driving assets to the development of the national economy. However, livestock keeping is traditional small holder extensive farming. Animals are vulnerable to tropical diseases. About a third of the public universities in Ethiopia produce animal health professionals, each producing on average producing fifty veterinarians annually. It gave the Donkey Sanctuary a wider opportunity to mainstream best practices while supporting them in the practical training of undergraduates in animal welfare, equine medicine and husbandry. Besides, the charity supports research attachments of both national and international standards. Equine medicine was delivered as part of large animal medicine in AAU-CVMA, supported by The Donkey Sanctuary. Now after curriculum harmonization Equine medicine and animal welfare are delivered as a course in all veterinary colleges.
As they carry different loads and pull carts donkeys suffer from variety of injuries. Most of the wounds are caused by lack of appropriate harness, poor design or wrong use of such materials. In Ethiopia One in every three donkey has got back sores. These are caused as donkey owners put hot flour and other items on bare back of donkeys. Even when they use padding the design is not suited for the type of load and sometimes made of synthetic material and fitted on the wrong part of the body.
Donkey welfare problems are deep rooted in the knowledge and attitude of donkey owning communities. Intervention to address donkey welfare problems should therefore, engage the community at the heart of its strategies. To this end, The Donkey Sanctuary Ethiopia works with rural and urban communities with an intension of enhancing the knowledge, attitude and practice of donkey owning communities and the general public towards improved welfare of donkeys through collaborative efforts. The existing community based institutions such as local administrative structures, Idirs (social and economic support system) and religious groups are engaged in disseminating proper message on donkey care and management practice that would eventually contribute towards improved donkey welfare. They make use of religious congregations, mourning events and public meetings to convey the intended donkey welfare message. The main actor among the community based institutions is the Animal Welfare Committee which embraces 10-15 members composed of Kebele administrator, Kebele manager, women Representative, youth representatives, religious leaders, community elders, development agents, school representatives, donkey owners and users. Currently there are ____ Community Animal Welfare committees consisting of ____ members (___ male and ___female) in all project operation areas. These committees are believed to have legitimate mandate from relevant government sector to sustainably ensure animal welfare at community level with a prospect of scaling up the best practices and experiences at national level.
While other livestock started enjoying the benefits of veterinary science a bit longer donkeys in Ethiopia had to wait until the last two decades. There was a longstanding belief that “sick donkeys never heal”. Even where there are Vets there was reluctance from many owners to bring donkeys to the Vets attention. Rather they resort to traditional therapies which end up complicating the cases further. Donkeys do not show signs of illness until it is too late resulting loss of cases even after treatment. Even when the owner is brave enough to bring his donkey to the Vet; there was very little interest and confidence to treat donkeys in a clinic leaving out the lack of medicines & equipment to do proper treatment.
The value of donkeys is vaguely defined and poorly represented in the national economy. Changing this notion and bringing donkeys and animal welfare in general onboard is not something we can do alone. Therefore, we use every opportunity from national and international forums to local events to raise the profile of donkeys. We collaborate with other animal welfare charities like The Brooke and Spana Ethiopia through the Animal Welfare working Group hosted by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture on various animal welfare issues like policy and legislation. We also take part in national networks of Veterinary Colleges, Livestock actors’ networks and Professional associations like Ethiopian Veterinary Association and Ethiopian animal Health Professionals Association.