By Sue Griffin, The Donkey Sanctuary trustee
Ethiopia has over seven million donkeys, making it the largest donkey population in the world. The Donkey Sanctuary has been active in Ethiopia since 1986 and now operates in seven regions within the country from Tigray in the north to Hawassa in the south.
Problems with donkeys in Ethiopia are associated with poverty and lack of knowledge with regard to care and management as well as a negative attitude toward donkeys which sadly often leads to abuse, neglect and abandonment.
As a trustee, one of my key responsibilities is to make sure that the money so generously donated by our supporters is spent on those donkeys in greatest need, and where we can make a sustainable difference. So with that in mind, fellow trustee David Howarth and I visited Ethiopia to get a picture of the work on the ground and see the daily challenges the team face when going about their work to transform the quality of life for donkeys.
The strategy of the team in Ethiopia is to focus on specific regions and bring best practices into communities. They do this via animal welfare education in schools and colleges, and practical support by providing primary donkey healthcare and training and development of specialist harnesses for working donkeys.
We set off toward Hawassa in the south, initially to visit Alage where Donkey Sanctuary Ethiopia (DSE) provides support and expertise on donkey welfare via the Donkey Welfare Training Centre.
The centre provides practical training to students who qualify as animal healthcare professionals and go to work in communities across Ethiopia, providing advice, treatment and support to local communities. The College in Alage is the only one of its kind in Ethiopia, and we were honoured to meet the Dean of the College who is clearly committed to the relationship with The Donkey Sanctuary.
As over a third of working donkeys in Ethiopia suffer from harness inflicted injuries from cart pulling or ill-fitting harnesses, there is a significant focus on developing model carts and pack saddles from local materials which can aid the wellbeing of these hard-working animals. By training animal healthcare professionals who then can train those in the local communities, we start to build a network which can sustain the improvements in donkey welfare.
It was heartening to see the enthusiasm on display from the year 4 children
The following day we visited some of our community projects in the village of Bera-tadicho, some 25km south of Hawassa. In Awada, we saw the enthusiasm generated by some excellent teachers who run the local primary school animal welfare club. The focus of the club is to build empathy towards the donkey in the children, who then in turn spread the message of donkey welfare to their families.
It was heartening to see the enthusiasm on display from the year 4 children and the commitment of the teachers, and we were treated to poems and drama about the role of the donkey in their lives.
Following the primary school we moved to the more direct intervention provided by one of the government veterinary clinics staffed by one of the animal healthcare professionals. Over 800 donkeys receive direct healthcare services in the two clinics in the area.
In the same village we met a pack saddle maker trained by DSE who is currently producing around 80 pack saddles per year. He has been so successful that he now has a waiting list, and is also teaching his sons to make the saddles to keep up with demand.
Later in the day we were invited to meet with the village animal welfare council. This consisted of the village elder, the religious leader, the harness maker, the health professional and the local chairman. All spoke highly of the work to improve donkey care and welfare, to the extent they had formulated a new animal welfare bylaw for the area to maintain their standards.
This combination of educating children and animal healthcare professionals combined with practical primary healthcare and harness making practice is a model we believe makes the biggest sustainable impact on donkey welfare.
By focusing and succeeding in specific geographic areas we see our interventions rippling out into neighbouring communities and producing sustained improvement in donkey welfare, and the perceptions of the value of donkeys in communities.