Over 300 donkeys assemble in the market square of Jakiri, a town in the north-west of Cameroon. Some are ill-looking and weak, and many have wounds. Others cannot stand for long periods because they have overgrown hooves and injured legs. Their owners, nearly 100 local subsistence farmers and cattle herders, rely on their donkeys to transport goods to market and carry water and firewood for domestic use, but know little about how to look after them. That’s why they are here.
The owners came in response to a call from their community leader, who had been contacted by local animal welfare organisation The Foundation for Animal Welfare Cameroon (FAWCAM), which receives support from The Donkey Sanctuary.
“The donkey owners of Jakiri were not wicked to their animals but were ignorant of good donkey management or care,” says Ben Wara, director of FAWCAM. “They overloaded the animals and beat them when they didn’t obey. When the donkeys developed wounds or injuries the owners used local methods to treat them. In some cases they succeeded but in others the animals died.”
A team from FAWCAM funded by The Donkey Sanctuary, along with government staff from the Delegation of Livestock, Fisheries and Animal Industries, offered the owners training and advice on how to handle and care for their donkeys. Even then, many were resistant to change.
“At the beginning, around half of the donkey owners didn't want to implement the methods of harnessing and treatment we gave them. Many said it was too expensive,” Ben says.
It was an uphill battle, but with fortnightly visits to encourage the donkey owners to see the advantages of improving welfare, the cynics were gradually won over.
“We showed them the difference between donkeys who were treated well and those who weren't. Good welfare practices result in happy, healthy and strong donkeys. It was enough to convince the reluctant owners,” Ben says.
After four months almost all the donkey owners had become members of a new Donkey Co-Operative Society. Attitudes towards donkey welfare have made a complete turnaround, Ben says. The majority of owners now understand the danger of overloading the donkeys and that donkeys are sentient beings.
“They have stopped working donkeys that are under two years old,” Ben says. “They now understand the danger of making heavily pregnant donkeys work and they seek treatment for their donkeys from qualified vets, and get a veterinary technician to trim their hooves.”
The impact on the donkeys is obvious, he says.
“Most of the donkeys in Jakiri now look beautiful and healthy without wounds or infections of any kind,” Ben says. “This is thanks to the knowledge of The Donkey Sanctuary, without which nothing could have been done in the interest of the donkey owners and their donkeys.”