Cameroon is often called Africa in miniature. The Sahara’s fringe brings the dessert to the north, the tropical coast is fringed with coconut palms, rainforests cover much of the south and mountainous grasslands dominate the North-West province where our partners, The Foundation for Animal Welfare in Cameroon (FAWCAM), are based. Although we have been working together since 2010, we have never had the chance to see the team in action so I’m spending a few days in and around Bamenda and Kumbo towns at their project sites to learn more about FAWCAM’s work.
Before catching the bus from the capital Yaoundé to Bamenda, we just had time to make a quick call to see the Secretary General of Cameroon’s Ministry of Livestock. Fairly newly appointed, we were delighted to learn that he owns seven donkeys himself! Last year, FAWCAM held the first press conference in the country focussing on donkey welfare; getting politicians onside is key to future advocacy work. The conversations were so fruitful and donkey-filled that time ran away with us - our bus was about to leave. Catching the bus by the skin of our teeth, we settled into what was billed a six-hour journey. Nine-and-a-bit hours of stunning scenery (not to mention about 50 police check points) later, we wound down the final mountainside into Bamenda, the main city of the North West.
Like many parts of the world, the climate of Cameroon’s grasslands is changing and this year’s dry season has been particularly harsh. Red, yellow and orange dust coats all the trees, cars, clothes, animals and lungs of the people here. Right now, I think I’m only a few shades away from being able to sneeze a perfect rainbow. After a sleep in Bamenda and another, much dustier ride into the stunning mountains, we met FAWCAM’s inspiring new staff members, Isidore and Victorine, in Vekovi village. Both are qualified vet nurses and are funded by The Donkey Sanctuary as part of our support to FAWCAM.
The villagers of Vekovi were so delighted to see us that they sent three outriders to escort us into the village with motorbikes adorned with branches. Warm and lively singing, dancing and drumming started up and we bopped along as best we could (although, as my girlfriend will grimly testify, I am not blessed with quite the same rhythm of your average Cameroonian). After being made to feel thoroughly welcome and getting to know the donkey owners and hear about the wonderful improvements to donkey welfare that FAWCAM have helped them make, it was time to meet the donkeys.
Over the last few years, FAWCAM and the villagers have spent time on building the understanding and relationships with donkeys and it really shows; the donkeys and mules were uncommonly happy to be handled and clearly trusted their owners. Considering that we are at the end of a very dry season, the body condition was also much better than I expected and the owners are even making salt available to their donkeys. Although foot problems, some harness problems and other welfare concerns still need to be overcome, so much has already been achieved. Our next visit to Mbuluf village told a very similar picture.
Even after a few hours seeing the difference that FAWCAM are making, it is clear how important their work is. I’m looking forward to learning more about them tomorrow!