Last week Mariano, the Donkey Sanctuary representative in Mexico, and I spent an afternoon with Gurrumina and her extended family - a small group of sheep, quite a few hens, three generations of humans, two dogs, and a kitten - all of them friendly. Gurrumina’s family lives in the village of San Sebastian Abasolo, in the state of Oaxaca, a seven-hour drive from Mexico City.
Taking us to meet Gurrumina were Jaime, a Donkey Sanctuary staff member who lives and works in Oaxaca; Miguel Angel, the local vet; and Araceli Aguilar, a vet student who has been living and working in San Sebastian Abasolo for six months to complete her Social Service, a mandatory part all university undergraduate degrees in Mexico.
Gurrumina is a lucky donkey. Mateo, her owner, clearly cares about her and his other animals. When I asked Mateo why he keeps them, "because I like to look after them" was the first thing he said before telling me more about each.
Araceli’s first task when she came to San Sebastian Abasolo was to assess donkey welfare against our ‘Hand’ framework - the basis of all we do. Although welfare is pretty good, not every donkey is looked after as well as Gurrumina, and not all problems can be blamed solely on human factors.
Oaxaca is an area of traditional mixed agriculture and the overall lives of Oaxacan donkeys is relatively good. If I was a donkey this would not be a bad place to live. Donkeys are generally well fed because the Oaxacan countryside has plenty of suitable food. To reduce problems caused by poor handling and harness, Araceli and Miguel organized a community training with Mauro and Luis, our behaviour and harness specialists in Mexico. Working with Jaime, they also trialled successfully a better treatment for a skin problem that was badly affecting some donkeys in the area. To talk to Mateo and to see Gurrumina’s improving skin lesions was the main reason we went to meet them both. Hoof care is not a priority but a hoof-care training course for the area is also being planned.
However, Gurrumina’s front feet were needing some attention, and after Mateo showed us how he keeps them trimmed, Mariano lead a mini-refresher training session for Mateo, Miguel, and Ariceli, while I held Gurrumina’s head.
Mariano and I were visiting Oaxaca to finalize the details of a Collaboration Agreement between The Donkey Sanctuary and Oaxaca University and its Veterinary Faculty. We provide Jaime and bursaries for donkey-focused Social Service student community placements; the university provides Jaime with a vehicle, office, equipment, and all day-to-day expenses.
As well as helping teach donkey health and welfare to the students, Jaime is working with the university to place more students like Araceli in communities, where they can get a deeper understanding of the challenges facing Oaxacan donkeys, and help us and the communities find robust solutions. This way we improve our work.
Collaborations like this help us gradually extend our worldwide network for donkey welfare. We are happy, Oaxaca University is happy, but most importantly, we are working to ensure Gurrumina, her family, the 80,000 other donkeys living in Oaxaca, and many more hundreds of thousands of donkeys around the world are becoming happier.