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On the small island of Lamu, off the coast of Kenya, a short boat ride takes you from the airport to town – and the very first thing that every visitor notices as they climb up the harbour-wall steps is that the ‘traffic’ on the island comes solely in the four-legged variety with barely a wheel to be seen. The island’s population of around 3,000 donkeys is relied upon for pretty much all forms of transport and has been tended to by The Donkey Sanctuary for over 25 years.
A chance encounter at Nairobi’s Wilson airport has just highlighted to me the strength of Donkey Sanctuary Kenya’s (DSK) networking and advocacy for donkey welfare. I am currently at about 22,000 feet, heading out to DSK’s centre on Lamu island with Josiah, the Education Officer from DSK, and after a stunning take-off across Nairobi National Park (think of an aerial view of giraffe and zebra herds – quite a treat), our tiny plane is flying mercifully smoothly.
Earlier this week, we talked about the Colloquium on Working Equids that our team attended in London. The purpose of the colloquium was to gather together people involved with working equines to share information from around the world and improve knowledge across the board. The Donkey Sanctuary was one of the four equine charities sponsoring the event and our UK International Team was joined by over 40 people from our partner organisations around the world, with representatives from Africa, Asia and the Americas.
‘Welcome to Mlolongo,’ said Amos, Harness Officer at Donkey Sanctuary Kenya, as we turned off the Mombasa Road.
I was visiting the small but burgeoning township of Mlolongo on the edge of Nairobi to meet with Daniel, a donkey owner who you may remember from our Winter Newsletter last year. Along with many other workers, Daniel and his donkeys transport water from the nearby Syokimau Dam to town to facilitate building work.
Now, I’ve heard of schools fostering donkeys and I’ve heard of schools which ‘Adopt a Donkey’ through the Sanctuary’s scheme but up until today, I had never heard of donkeys being the ones to start such a relationship.
On my last full day with the Donkey Sanctuary Kenya team for this trip, I drove with Josiah to Kumpa School on the outskirts of Kajiado town (towards the Tanzanian border from Nairobi).
At a community event in Kenya this week, I met Joseph, whose story highlighted how donkey and human welfare are very much linked when donkeys and people work together. Joseph is from a remote, rural area of Kenya where he struggled to make ends meet. He saved up as much as he could and moved to Nairobi five years ago where he used his savings to buy two 10-year-old donkeys from a friend. Without knowing much about the animals, he started a business transporting water by cart.
Thought you’d seen it all? Meet Toto, the inflatable donkey who has recently joined The Donkey Sanctuary Kenya (DSK) team as an exceptionally obedient harness training model. Wounds caused by ill-fitting or badly made harnesses are all too common in some parts of Kenya. When a harness causes a donkey pain, donkey-users can sometimes misunderstand their behaviour and, believing the animal to be stubborn or lazy, resort to beating it to try to speed it up.
You might remember the moving video we posted recently reflecting on the work donkeys did for the women of Kenya during the 2011 droughts and in its aftermath. In it, the women discussed how communities rely on donkeys to transport water for the home, as well as for their cattle, especially during the frequent droughts. In the 2011 drought, things got so bad that cattle, goats and even donkeys began dying of starvation and thirst.
People often ask me what I actually do, which is a bit of a hard question as the job is very varied, but one of my favourite places is in the field, with the team. Nowhere is this more true than in Kenya, where we can go on Safari for up to two weeks. Nice word ‘Safari’, conjures up thoughts of lodges, stunning views and magnificent wildlife, but the truth is a little more down to earth. Safari is just Swahili for ‘travelling’.
In November 2011 the Sanctuary's harness makers from Ethiopia, Egypt and Kenya came together in Ethiopia for a trailblazing new course on harness, cart design and donkey behaviour, pulled together by our amazing harness expert, Chris Garrett. It was based in Hawassa where donkeys are widely used to pull carts, and where their condition is often very poor, because of over work, overloading, beatings and poor harness.