Dealing with the constant threat of thieves is a big headache for donkey owners working in brick kilns in Solapur, a district in the south of India, where for six months of the year before the rainy season people and donkeys live a hard life hauling raw clay bricks to the kilns. To deter thieves, many owners resort to branding the donkeys with hot irons so they can be identified. It’s not a good deal for either donkey or owner. Besides being painful, branding can also lead to tetanus, an infection which is all too often fatal for donkeys and costs the donkey owners money in treatment.
With the help of Donkey Sanctuary India’s Community Officer Suchitra Gaikwad, the donkey owners came up with a humane solution which is proving increasingly popular. Instead of using hot irons, donkey owners are using henna hair dye, which lasts for between two to three months before it needs to be reapplied.
“We made them aware about the issues [around using hot irons] as well as the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, and they started using hair dye for the first time,” Suchitra says. “The donkey owners found this method simple, without any pain and cruelty.”
Using the dye, owners draw their identifying mark on the donkeys flank. The first owner to use this method was Babu Vite, who uses the mark “B1”.
According to Suchitra, eighteen donkey owners have now switched to using hair dye to identify their donkeys, adding that they are part of a “new generation” of donkey owners aged between 23-30.
As news of the popular method spreads, she anticipates many more donkey owners will be joining soon.