Around the Pyramids of Giza, there is a concrete wall capped with a fence that divides the past from the present. On one side of the wall, the Sphinx gazes passively down on a surprisingly tourist-free site; visitors still seem to be too nervous after the revolution to be flocking back in large numbers. Up against the city side of the wall, there are dozens of stables where the horses (and the occasional camel) used for tourists at the Pyramids are kept. Beautiful Arab stallions mingle with smaller Egyptian horses in the bustling streets in this area and the horses seem to outnumber the people. The humble donkey, no longer used for tourist rides at the Pyramids, now perform a support role; they are used to bring food for the horses and for transporting waste away from the stables. The role may be unglamorous but the work of The Society for the Protection and Welfare of Donkeys and Mules in Egypt (SPWDME, the long-standing Egyptian partner of the Donkey Sanctuary) has meant that donkey welfare is now relatively good in this area.
Last week, I visited one of the stables with SPWDME’s mobile clinic. Dr Shaaban (Vet Co-ordinator) described how ‘in this area, the mobile clinic is turning into mobile training centre’. We were joined by nine 3rd year vet students from the University of Cairo for their first of five days with SPWDME’s team to learn about donkey welfare issues, handling, behaviour and treatments. Thanks to a partnership agreement with the stable owner, local district veterinary office and University of Cairo, these students get an amazing first-hand, practical experience from the excellent Dr Reem, Dr Shaaban and Hamed from SPWDME. This isn’t easy work and it was superb to watch the students grow in confidence during the day. Dr Shaaban also taught them about The Donkey Sanctuary’s welfare assessment tool and they practiced together so that they knew what to look for and how to describe welfare in a meaningful way.
As I gazed up at the Pyramids looming up behind the wall, I couldn't help thinking about how time has changed. Donkeys have been used for literally thousands of years in this part of the world. In the present, as I stood watching Dr Reem and Hamed show a group of students how to treat a broken tooth, my mind drifted to a bright future where these students become the next generation of ambassadors for donkey welfare in Egypt. It is hugely uplifting to know that The Donkey Sanctuary and SPWDME’s work isn’t just protecting the welfare of donkeys here and now but that the impact will be felt for many years to come.