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 fourth blog from the field.
Effective harness production and implementation are crucial to prevent wounds and injuries, and to enable safe control of and communication with the working donkey. In a drive to highlight these important issues, The Egyptian Society for the Protection and Welfare of Working Animals (ESPWWA) have begun a series of participatory sessions with the donkey owners and brick kiln stockmen responsible for equid care. Farid, ESPWWA’s enthusiastic harness maker, is passionate about promoting the importance of the harness, as well as recognising the individual problems and misconceptions of donkey owners in relation to this subject.
Our first meeting began in a crowded courtyard of donkey owners, belonging to the Mayor of Alkebabat, a local ambassador for good donkey welfare. Willing cooperation between ESPWWA and influential members of the community is essential for effective implementation and long-term progression of community projects. During previous mobile clinics conducted in this area, the team had detected a high prevalence of pack saddle-associated wounds which prompted the introduction of interactive discussions to help owners understand the importance of well-designed harnesses. As Farid explained, belly and hindquarter straps are required to prevent excessive packsaddle movement, and choosing broad straps which distribute pressure over a wider area will help to reduce injuries. These concepts were explained through open discussion of practical problems experienced in the field, such as the availability of suitable natural harness materials, as well as repetition of important aspects of donkey welfare. Farid effectively demonstrated the importance of broad versus thin straps by exerting pressure on an owner’s arm with materials of variable width. The owner’s reaction clearly gave away which he preferred!
It is this vital recognition that the senses of a donkey are as acute and individual as those of a human that can help owners to appreciate the importance of providing their animals with a pain-free environment. Farid also explained how a halter can be used as an effective means of communication between donkey and owner, and assisted his audience to make their own donkey hobbles using locally sourced natural materials. By forging strong long-lasting relationships with the community, the team can provide realistic solutions to specific problems faced by donkey owners, taking into account available resources as well as socioeconomic variables. Welfare assessments will be performed on the donkeys of Alkebabat in six months to evaluate whether increased owner understanding of the importance of the harness can help to reduce the wound prevalence observed during mobile clinics.
Our next appointment was with a group of stockmen, responsible for donkey welfare in 10 brick kilns in the El Saf region. Hassan our host, whose family has manufactured bricks in this area for decades, has seen a significant improvement in donkey welfare over time. Despite the donkey being replaced by machinery in some areas of the production chain, staff remain reliant on working equids for the carriage of bricks through kiln entrances. It is therefore crucial that stockmen have a working knowledge of the function of the harness and its components, including halter, collar, packsaddle and cart, to reduce associated injuries.
The ESPWWA team engaged their audience with a series of interactive talks, encouraging stockmen to share and compare individual problems observed in their kilns, and presenting solutions to combat them in the future. For example, the inappropriate use of old machinery parts to make sure packsaddles can be improved upon by covering in natural cotton material is a cheap but effective way of reducing associated wounds. With the hope of improving overall donkey welfare further, Farid also highlighted the link between body condition and harness-associated wound prevalence as more prominent bones will create more abrasive forces with the harness. These open discussions enabled the stockmen to exchange information amongst themselves and with ESPWWA, and to recognise the crucial role they play as protectors of donkey welfare. At the end of the day, Hassan hosted a wonderful lunch of barasheeh (beef and vegetables) cooked on the brick kilns themselves, an indication of the strong relations being forged with ESPWWA.
To ensure that donkey owners have access to trained harness makers in the future, ESPWWA is currently equipping several local service providers with an increased practical knowledge of the harness, donkey behaviour and handling, and how to perform a welfare assessment. One such apprentice, Mostafa, who has been training with ESPWWA for five months, has developed specialist knowledge of the harness-related problems affecting donkeys in the brick kilns of El Saf. Whilst honing the skills to address issues in this area, he is building vital relations with the local community, and will make progressive improvements in competency level with the continued support of the ESPWWA team. As Farid explained, “learning has no roof”, so the trainees will continue to build their knowledge and adapt to this changeable environment year after year.