Tessa Cornell is a recent graduate of Edinburgh Vet School and a recipient of The Donkey Sanctuary’s overseas travel grant, as part of which she is spending a month with our partner in Egypt, ESPWWA. During this time, Tessa will be learning about ESPWWA’s veterinary outreach and community education programmes, helping produce educational material on eye problems, and investigating the causes of eye disease in the donkey population. This is her third blog from the field.
In the rural surroundings of bustling Cairo, The Egyptian Society for the Protection and Welfare of Working Animals (ESPWWA) focus their work on making a difference in 14 key communities. Their crucial work provides respite to donkey populations, runs training sessions for local vets, and increases owner awareness of important donkey welfare issues. During my visit, it was the responsibility of vets Dr Shaaban and Dr Nehal and Senior Animal Health Assistant Moharam to visit two sites at different stages on the journey towards lasting change.
Encircled by an oasis of date trees and productive pastoral land, the approach to El Kebabat hinted at the role that the working donkey plays in this region. Ahead of us, several immense piles of freshly cut corn were ambling down the road, disguising the plodding hooves beneath as they carried the crops into town. Our base was beside Mr Kamal’s home, who had kindly offered the use of his courtyard and whose prominence in the community had further promoted the services being offered by ESPWWA.
Before engaging with the donkeys and their owners, Dr Shaaban pointed out what one can learn from simple observation of the approaching donkeys. Saddle-associated wounds appeared prevalent, the overall body condition was sub-optimal, and the majority of owners held a stick to direct their animals. But in comparison to donkeys labouring in the nearby brick kilns, whip-associated wounds were scarce, and the overall quality of communication between the donkeys and their handlers appeared good. The team attached educational posters to the surrounding walls, enabling owners to learn about common donkey welfare issues including low body condition, wounds, and lameness. Crucially, human factors must also be considered to recognize the working practices and socio-economic influences that are impacting donkey health.
Later in the week we travelled to Cairo’s outskirts to the town of Oussem, where ESPWWA’s involvement is now minimal and where a mobile clinic is held at the government vet practice that serves local farm animal and equid populations. The team had implemented voluntary training sessions for local vets to develop practical skills relevant to the working donkey, and have since maintained contact to provide technical support if required. Since their initial interventions in this area, there has been an exciting shift in the community’s approach to donkey welfare. This proactive change begins with owners recognizing the importance of welfare issues and subsequently acting upon them, and visiting local ESPWWA-trained animal care assistants and vets if further treatment is required. An important relation in this process is with Oussem’s well-established local farrier, whom the team advised on the harmful impact of certain traditional healing practices.
The future looks brighter for the working donkeys of both El Kebabat and Oussem. Importantly, ESPWWA have provided local vets and animal health care assistants with the skills required to provide an independent service, and have created positive relations with established tradesmen to share progressive advice on how best to achieve optimal donkey welfare. We finished the clinics with a slice of sugary basboosa cake, reflecting the sweet success of this sustainable service!