The Donkey Health and Welfare Project commonly known as ‘Donkey Project’ in the School of Veterinary Medicine, Addis Ababa University, was conceived in 1986. This was preceded by a visit of the founder of the charity, Dr Svendsen and her colleague Miss June Evers to Ethiopia upon the recommendation of Professor James Duncan, who then was a visiting parasitologist at the school of vet medicine, University of Glasgow as an external examiner for final year veterinary graduates. Baseline data pertaining to the health and welfare of donkeys were developed by the Department of Pathology and Parasitology at the School of vet Medicine in Debre Zeit, while Professor Feseha Gebreab was head of the Department before a formal agreement was signed between the charity and Addis Ababa University in Nov 1995. The CEO and founder of the Donkey Sanctuary, Dr Elizabeth Svendsen and the then President of the Addis Ababa University Dr Duri Mohammed – signed the MOU lasting for 25 years.
In 1999 a high-tech donkey hospital was built and inaugurated with speech of Dr Svendsen and the then president of the Addis Ababa University – Professor Mogessie Ashanafi. Guest of honors included Miss June Evers – Deputy Chief Executive, Professor James Duncan - trustee, Dr Andrew Trawford – Director of Veterinary Services, of the Donkey Sanctuary, Dean of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and university community and local authorities. Professor Feseha Gebreab organized the ceremony. The inauguration of the Donkey Clinic was a breakthrough for the charity. It raised the profile of donkeys. There was a huge debate in the local and the international media and the public at large with criticisms that went as ‘building a donkey hospital in a country where there is no sufficient health care service for humans”. In effect, the opening of the clinic gave a tremendous public awareness about the need of health care for donkeys.
Debre Zeit (Bishoftu) is located (see map link) in Oromia region at 45 km from the capital eastward. The town is rich in crater lakes. It is a home for Oromo people where once a year the community gathers with leaders called Aba Geda for ‘Waqeffana’ (thanksgiving ritual).
The objectives of the charity in the beginning as depicted in the MOU were:
- To conduct research on the health problems of working donkeys in Ethiopia
- - To provide clinical care and general welfare to working donkeys of Debre Zeit and surrounding areas
The charity started off in four districts Ada, Akaki, Bereh and Boset in 1995. In 2004, it expanded to include more districts: Dugda, Bora, Lume and Sebata.
In 2008 – a second donkey clinic was built upon the request an organized local association called ‘Donkey Owner’s Association’ at Markato grain market, administered by the project under the university. It is believed that the grain market is visited by a minimum of 3,000 – 4,000 working donkeys every day with the exception of Sundays. The main job of the donkeys is to transport grains purchased from a whole sale centre located at Mesalemia to individual houses or retailer centres. They are often overloaded carrying over their body weight, more than a quintal. They are driven long distances about 6-7 kms mostly sharing highways with motorized vehicles. The latter predisposes donkeys to car accidents particularly sustaining injury on the feet.
Donkeys do not have places to graze in the grain market area. They remain hobbled or tethered camped together on a mud created by their feces and urine. This will predispose their feet to thrush and hoof overgrowth. As donkeys are also expected to travel through narrow inlets in the city where motorized vehicle have no access, their soft feet are readily penetrated by sharp objects.