You wouldn't naturally expect to see a donkey at the zoo. However, in Dar es Salaam’s zoo on the Tanzanian coast, six donkeys are used by special donkey handlers/drivers to provide short cart rides to enthusiastic children who visit. The donkeys each only work for a few hours a day and only for around three days a week each so get to spend the rest of their time free-grazing around the expansive zoo grounds which are more akin to a model farm than a zoo. As well as a few of the African wildlife you might expect to see, dozens of goats, sheep, geese, different species of chickens and other livestock are housed in good conditions.
We were visiting to see the two-shaft carts which the donkeys pull. While the two-shaft carts are significantly better than single-shaft carts used in many pockets of Africa, the harness system was not ideal. That said, because of the short working hours of the donkeys and very light loads of the children, there were no indications of wounds or rubbing and the donkeys seemed to enjoy the attention of the giggling children and the communication between the driver and donkey was all positive as they went around the short, sandy 200-metre route.
As I type, some of our key good-harness-promoting allies from Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and South Africa are arriving in Dar es Salaam for a harness workshop hosted by The Donkey Sanctuary. As well as learning about the functions, parts and mechanics of a good harness, we’ll be using the zoo donkeys to practise fitting improved harnesses and our friends at the Tanzanian Animal Welfare Society (TAWESO), based in Dar es Salaam, plan to follow up with the zoo to essentially ‘advertise’ well-made, well-fitted and well-used harnesses for two-shaft carts. We’re very excited to spend the next few days together working on the essence of good harness work with our friends and colleagues to build up their harness practice.
An exciting and very unusual moment at the zoo was the chance to carry out a welfare assessment on a ‘zonkey’ (a zebra-donkey cross/mule). Where human and wildlife populations overlap in Tanzania, these grey, partly striped equines sometimes appear and the zoo was given one a few years ago. While it is sad that the zonkey spends much of his time alone with only limited contact with the zebras, the assessment showed his physical health to be good and the zoo staff told me that they are looking for a friend for him. It was certainly an unusual sight!