The Donkey Sanctuary has been working with our partner Animal Nepal since 2009, helping the donkeys and mules working in brick kilns in the Kathmandu valley by training owners in handling and care and conducting mobile clinics.
Approximately 50-80 donkeys work in each brick kiln in Nepal so this work has a huge impact on donkey welfare. When the earthquake struck we were supporting around 600 donkeys.
We have been deeply moved by the accounts of our colleagues at Animal Nepal, who, with our support, continue to look after donkeys and mules in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake which struck the country on Saturday, 25 April. Their stories are of fear and grief but above all, resilience and determination.
Director of Animal Nepal Uttam Kafle said the day the earthquake struck was “a day of horror” for everyone in the team, but attending to the welfare of the animals they care for was among their first priorities.
“I was reluctant to ask my staff to go into the field because I knew they had so much to cope with personally,” he says, “but I am so proud of them because as professionals they were so ready and were very quickly mobilised.”
Our colleagues recalled the moment the earthquake struck. "We were just having our morning meal when suddenly the ground started to shake,” says Santa Bahadur, caretaker at Animal Nepal. “We wanted to run outside but could barely stand. My wife and I somehow managed to escape. Outside, the sick donkey's isolation room collapsed in front of our eyes, followed by the tall chimney of BBM Brick Factory, just below our compound.”
Uttam described the experience of vet Dr Atish Yadav, who was out driving Animal Nepal’s ambulance to a brick factory when the earthquake hit. “He wasn’t prepared, he had no shelter but by Monday, just two days after the ‘quake, he was helping donkeys and mules and people at the brick kilns.”
The situation at the kilns was dire. The earthquake took place on Saturday afternoon when most equines and their caretakers were at work. When our team arrived, chimneys had collapsed killing three equines in Animal Nepal’s working area and a reported 150 in a nearby district.
The team treated all surviving wounded equines and provided tetanus and rabies vaccinations to those at risk. However, both donkeys as well as people were very hungry and supplies were running thin. With emergency funds from the DS, Animal Nepal distributed essential donkey food, commodities, tarpaulins and other essentials to their owners.
The equine owners at Kantipur Brick Kiln suffered the greatest losses and because they are poor, the team at Animal Nepal distributed extra relief materials. The donkeys received nutritious feed and extra care with regular follow-up treatment.
Despite the devastation, Uttam says he is grateful it wasn’t worse. “We are really lucky because the ‘quake hit during the school holiday, otherwise our children would have been in the schools when they collapsed. Also, it happened during the day, otherwise we would have been inside our homes asleep. My family survived and I have not stopped working to help and protect the donkeys and mules who need our help”.
Animal Nepal is rebuilding the isolation unit at their donkey sanctuary and urgently needs to buy a solar fridge for vaccines and medicines.
The team are designing a shelter which is not only resilient to earthquakes but is also safe from fires, landslides and other disasters. They are also lobbying for improved conditions for the surviving donkeys still working in the brick kilns. The bricks required to replace the buildings that have collapsed will undoubtedly be carried on the backs of donkeys.
Most kiln workers and their donkeys have fled from Kathmandu in fear and in search of alternative livelihoods; many had taken loans at the start of the season anticipating a full season’s work. Of course we are concerned for the ongoing welfare of those donkeys that were formally monitored through our partnership with Animal Nepal.
Donkeys and mules may also have a big part to play in the relief effort, as aid is sent to hard-to-reach areas. The emotional scars will also be a heavy burden, for people and equines, particularly under the looming threat of another ‘quake.
The task for Animal Nepal, with help from the DS, will be to ensure donkeys, mules and their owners are not alone in the journey to recovery.