The sound of braying donkeys filled the dusty air at Bateshwar equine fair in northern India, and the owners of almost 3,500 animals were starting to panic. The situation was escalating towards crisis point due to a severe lack of water. The fair organisers had not managed to install a hand pump in the dry and hilly terrain where thousands of people had gathered to buy and sell thousands of donkeys, mules and horses. The owners and traders who had travelled to get to this small town located 70 km from the famous Taj Mahal felt powerless to do anything except complain to their hosts and to try to keep themselves and their tired animals calm.
In response to the desperate situation and the rapidly deteriorating condition of the equines, Donkey Sanctuary India jumped into action by sourcing large tanks of water and dragging them to strategic locations within the fair using tractors. The big blue water tanks were replaced twice daily, which provided sufficient water to support this large number of equines as well as their owners. As soon the highly visible tanks arrived, owners would start running towards them with buckets to get a share of water for their valuable animals.
During the remaining days of the market, many young and old equine owners came to the Donkey Sanctuary India stall, where they benefited from training and awareness sessions and enjoyed educational video projections in the evening. The videos shown were selected according to the issues observed at the fair, for example, donkey hoof care. The capable team also provided treatments to injured and sick animals as well as preventative healthcare advice. For example, Dr Nath treated a donkey with a serious wound on its forehead and the owner Praveen was asked to reflect on how this had happened and was taught how to clean the wound properly and regularly. An owner named Bittu brought a lame mule who had been kicked during transportation to the fair and was severely bruised over its hind quarters. Dr Nath administered pain relief and advised Bittu to rest his mule until it was fit enough to be transported again. The Donkey Sanctuary team also works with the organisers to reduce injuries during transport and unloading of the donkeys. The hard-working team were encouraged by the gratitude of the many equine owners who called them heroes and thanked them for providing life-sustaining water and generous compassion for their valuable animals.
Soon after Bateshwar, the Donkey Sanctuary India team travelled to Ujjain, in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, for its first-ever visit to the five-day Gardhabraj Mela, or Donkey Fair. Donkey owners from the surrounding states of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra had brought around 3,000 donkeys to trade here. The donkeys were ‘decked up’ with splashes of pink colour and given catchy names - famous politicians and movie stars are popular choices - to make them more attractive to buyers. Our team shared educational materials and offered veterinary treatment and hoof care kits to owners, who appreciated the help. One man, who brought a donkey with an infected hoof for treatment, was so surprised by the care shown to his animal that he wanted to donate money to Donkey Sanctuary India, remarking that he’d only ever seen such level of treatment reserved for humans! Dr. Patel, one of the vets, persuaded him to use the money towards buying grass for his donkey.
By contrast to the Bateshwar fair, a different water-related story reached our eyes when we saw a photo sent from our Egypt project on the other side of the world. In this case, a vegetable seller devised his own solution to protect his donkey co-worker from heavy rain. I am sure you will smile when you see a donkey in Cairo wearing a lovingly prepared rain-mac and waterproof ear protector. If only donkeys could sing…