Today is our first full working day in Mexico so we awoke early, excited but with trepidation at what experiences were to come. We were picked up by Arturo and Rebeca (both are Senior Managers in The Donkey Sanctuary-UNAM programme) in what we came to know as our all American A-team truck, which was to become our second home for the next two weeks!
We travelled to a UNAM veterinary campus in Queretaro, where vet students get hands-on experience. Here we met Dr Omar Prado Ortíz, who is a vet for the The Donkey Sanctuary-UNAM (DS-UNAM) programme.
Omar explained to us that today’s aim was to visit a village called El Naranjillos where the team has been working for two years. Work originally started here due to problems with rabid animals when the community contacted the DS-UNAM programme for help. Since then, Omar has been building relationships with the community to educate and promote good welfare standards. The team are providing advice and guidance to help support the community.
Omar, ourselves and a group of vet students drove for several hours along dirt tracks that consisted of more pot-holes than actual road! We eventually arrived to a quiet, dusty clearing without a soul in sight, but within minutes of our arrival, donkeys, mules and their owners started to come down from every mountain track to congregate around us.
One little donkey named Neron arrived with his horse companion and very caring owner called Eberardo, who explained that Neron is used to carry food for the horse as well as bringing back the ingredients for traditional tortillas from the field. Whilst Neron was receiving treatment for a minor wound, we took the opportunity to chat to Eberardo about how the programme helps support the community. He said: “The Donkey Sanctuary has been teaching us about the correct handling techniques, which is something we haven’t thought about before. A lot of the time the way we handle our equines is just tradition - it’s the way our ancestors did it and it has been passed through generations. We are afraid to stop or change as we think the animal will turn out difficult to handle. Omar has taught us to stop twitching our animals and proved to us that we do not need to do it and that they respond more positively to kind and confident handling.”
Eberardo’s words rang true as throughout the day we only witnessed one person twitching their donkey. Many people were now handling their animals in a more positive manner, but there were still a few individuals who were unnecessarily rough and uninterested in listening to us. The DS-UNAM programme staff spoke to all of these people and received mixed reactions. Some of the handling we saw was very difficult to witness, but the team will not give up on these people and will continue to work to improve the welfare for their animals.
The DS-UNAM programme has a good relationship with this community now due to the success and visible changes that have taken place. The next concern to be addressed is the use of hobbles (when the animals legs are bound together). In this village they use hobbles to stop their animals from roaming too far and entering other people’s land.
Throughout the course of the day we noticed people visibly struggling to handle their stallions. We mentioned this to Omar and he explained that he had spoken to them about the benefits of castration and how it could also have positive effects on handling. Due to Omar’s ongoing influence, the team conducted three castrations today and hope to do more on their next visit.
Once the clinic was complete the community invited us to join them for some traditional food as a way of thanking us all for our contribution in assisting them and their animals. Whilst enjoying their generosity, Omar talked with his main contact in the community to source some accommodation for a social service student to spend some time here. This student will spend three months living with the community and will be on-hand to offer support and advice. The student will also report back to Mariano Hernández Gil, Country Manager, and his team about the main issues faced with regards to animal welfare, as well as assisting the team with their community work.
Today was both eye opening and exhausting. We had a day of such mixed emotions that left us feeling saddened, but also proud to work for an organisation that is making such positive changes.