It isn’t every day that you get donkey-welfare advocates from ten different nations in the same room. This week, The Donkey Sanctuary has brought together 32 people representing key organisations from South Africa, Lesotho, Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Cameroon and the UK. And what a week it is turning out to be!
Working with our friends at the South African National Council for SPCAs, we’ve brought this network of hugely experienced people together in Bela-Bela, South Africa, to share experiences in the field and to learn from each other’s approaches with the ultimate goal of improving the work that we all do. The passion, energy and love for donkeys is tangible and I am loving the way that people are thoughtfully asking questions to each to learn more about the donkeys and communities in other places as well as the different ways that they work.
I spent time today with Betty (part of the Highveld Horse Care Unit Township – HHCU – team who work with township donkeys in South Africa), Sylvester (from Lesotho and currently training with HHCU) and Nelson (from Mwamfumba Animal Welfare Society in Zambia). Betty was intrigued to hear that in both Lesotho and Zambia, donkeys have been trained so well that they can be sent to and from the town by themselves to collect goods; the shopkeepers take money and instructions that are strapped to the donkeys, load them up with the goods and send them home unaccompanied. ‘This would never happen here!’ exclaimed Betty. It was great to hear them draw conclusions about the communication between people and donkeys as well as the depth of understanding of behaviour of donkeys in different communities.
In another discussion, Johnson (from Meru Animal Welfare Organisation in Tanzania) and Matome (from the NSPCA in South Africa) were talking about the role of women with donkeys in their countries. Johnson, who works mostly in Maasai communities, works closely with groups of women who are the main drivers of donkeys and therefore play a big role in their welfare. However, in the South African communities that Matome works in, women are never involved in the lives of donkeys and have very little power or control over their welfare. It was great to hear them share how this impacts on how they work with communities and what they could learn from each other to engage with the whole community.
Today, we have been discussing and practicing using The Donkey Sanctuary’s Hands-On welfare assessment model as a way of identifying and exploring problems and then tracking changes over time. And what better way to do that than by bringing some donkeys into the venue! The hotel staff, NSPCA staff and local traffic police were wonderful and arranged for 14 donkeys and four carts to come to the venue from Bela-Bela town so that we could meet the owners, learn about their lives and donkeys and their welfare.
As well as practicing observing and assessing the five ‘fingers’ of welfare (behaviour/demeanour, body condition, wounds, lameness/movement, other signs of illness/disease), we also learnt about the lives of the donkeys (represented by the palm) and the working practices (represented by the knuckles). We heard that people were relying on these donkeys to collect and deliver sand; a delivery of one cart of sand would generate 70-100 rand (about £4 to £6) and the men suggested that when the weather was kind, they were able to do this about four to five times every day to provide their family’s sole income.
The cross-pollination of ideas has been truly uplifting to watch over the first two days of this workshop and I’m looking forward to more later this week!