It was our last working day in Mexico before flying home, and we couldn't believe how quickly our two-week trip had flown by!
We travelled to a village called Xochimilco (meaning ‘Place of Flowers’) in the mountains on the outskirts of Mexico City. It is a bizarre little place, spread out over different levels as the mountainside is so steep. Despite the feeling that you are in a rural community, you are actually only a stone’s throw away from the sprawling metropolis of Mexico City and one glance back down the mountain reminds you of that.
Due to the difficult terrain the village is built on, there is no water supply, so people must come down the mountain a little way to a pump to collect water. In the rainy season, most people will collect rain water rather than make the journey to the pump every day. In the dry season, people here also sell the water, and they will make this journey with their donkeys as many as ten times a day, every day, starting at 4am. Sadly, the donkeys suffer a lot during this season.
DS-UNAM programme staff visit this community once a month and take records of every donkey transporting water so they can monitor their welfare on each visit. The main problem they identified was wounds caused by poorly fitting harnesses, so a project has been put in place to work with the community to make improvements (as first mentioned in the Winter Newsletter 2013). A Donkey Owners Group has been established to empower the women of the community to understand that caring for the welfare of their donkeys will be mutually beneficial in the long-term. Through this group, the women are being taught to make girths that will prevent sores. During our visit, the team were very pleased to see many of the working donkeys fashioning these new girths.
A group of three donkeys arrived at the water station with their owner, Isidro. They were tied loosely together, but once they got to the pump they were untied by Isidro to allow them to have a drink as he filled the four water containers on each of the donkey’s backs. As soon as the containers were full, Isidro turned the donkeys around and they immediately started walking back up the hill by themselves – clearly a routine they know well. While there, the team fitted a new, soft halter to one of the donkeys that was starting to get sores from the old rope that Isidro had been using. The vet spoke to him about another of his donkeys that was lame and Isidro agreed for the vet to carry out a proper examination of this donkey.
When we had finished monitoring all the donkeys that visited the pump that morning, we went up to the village to observe how the vet and community worker use each donkey treatment as an opportunity to educate owners about basic care for their animals. Isidro’s lame donkey had a large stone embedded in its hoof, which had become infected and formed an abscess. The vet removed the stone and flushed the abscess. The vet then explained to Isidro about the importance of cleaning this hoof daily to prevent any further infection. Isidro was advised to rest this donkey and he was given some sachets of pain killer to ensure that the donkey was comfortable while the abscess healed. The team will see Isidro and his donkeys when they visit the community again next month.
Although there is still a huge amount of work to do in this community and the welfare of some of the donkeys we saw was very poor, it is a comfort knowing that people are starting to come around to the concept of improved welfare, and that the Donkey Owners Group is gaining more members.