Achieving lasting welfare changes for donkeys and mules requires a multi-pronged approach that focuses simultaneously on healthcare provision, community education for behaviour change and policy-level advocacy.
At a large equine fair such as Barabanki in north India, where some 5,000 animals converge in a relatively small area for a week, it becomes even more important to focus on advocacy and networking with fair organisers and local government officials to ensure that facilities for animals are put in place quickly and efficiently.
On our visit to Barabanki in October, we found a mixed bag of facilities for animals. Freshly cut green fodder, straw and dry concentrate were readily available through a network of hawkers and there was plenty of fresh water thanks to several hand pumps installed across the fair ground.
Open areas nearby offered adequate space to exercise the animals early morning or late in the evening. There was even a government-run veterinary hospital situated inside the fair ground where owners could seek treatment for ill or injured animals.
However, other vital provisions were missing. There were no concrete ramps for loading and unloading animals from trucks, putting them at risk of severe injury each time they used the two makeshift mud-and-straw ramps.
Many animals across the fair were found to be showing signs of respiratory disease, but there was no isolation unit in place to quarantine them. Facilities for proper carcass disposal were poor too.
These are major logistical issues that cannot be solved by our initiative alone; it requires building relationships with local government authorities to get them on board too.
“If you look at the number of fairs that are here and the number of animals worldwide, we couldn’t cover them all, so we need to work with the people who are already here,” explains The Donkey Sanctuary CEO Mike Baker, who visited the fair and held discussions with government vets. “We need to make sure the local authorities, the vets, the fair organisers are taking into account donkey welfare and doing that even without us here- that’s the ultimate goal. We can then move on to other areas where the animals desperately need us, and it’s not going to happen without the advocacy work.”
Since 2011, when Donkey Sanctuary India first began visiting Barabanki Fair, it has been working hard to build a healthy relationship with the fair organisers and local authorities, with important progress. “[In the last few years] we have achieved the trust of the owners and the goodwill of the fair administrators, which is a very important first step,” says Donkey Sanctuary India's Veterinary Coordinator Dr Ramesh Kumar Perumal. “Now they recognise us. So if officials ask for owners’ signatures to build a ramp, for example, we can get them from 150 people easily if needed.”
We are pleased to announce that the team’s sustained efforts over the last five years have yielded some very positive results this year. On the second day of the fair, Dr Ramesh and Dr Surajit Nath of Donkey Sanctuary India, Dr Joe Collins from Donkey Sanctuary Ireland, The Donkey Sanctuary CEO Mike Baker and a team from Brooke India met with the area’s Chief Veterinary Officer Dr AK Singh and Dewa Veterinary Officer Dr SP Singh to discuss a shared vision of changes required. During the meeting, our team pitched the need for creating an isolation unit and building concrete ramps in time for next year’s fair, among other suggestions.
The Chief Veterinary Officer was enthusiastic when shown images of the concrete ramps that Dr Ramesh and his team have helped build at the Vautha fair in Ahmedabad, and asked for the images to be sent to him so he could share them with the District Magistrate and begin discussing sites for them. Our team plans to propose two loading spots as potential sites for the ramps.
More importantly, Dr AK Singh asked the Dewa Veterinary Officer to convert an unused part of the veterinary hospital’s land into a temporary isolation unit as soon as possible.
As a result, we managed to have the area prepared in time for the last couple of days of the fair. “The good thing is that we moved the government to have an isolation unit, and today we put one strangles case there with strict isolation protocol. It’s a good beginning,” says Dr Ramesh. “For next year, the Chief Veterinary Officer has said we will erect an isolation unit before the fair starts. So from Day 1 we will ask one government vet, one Donkey Sanctuary India vet and might be someone from Brooke India to be assessors; they will go around each zone and if they see a sick animal they will straight away take it to isolation.”
Perhaps most importantly, the Chief Veterinary Officer invited our team to be part of two meetings with fair organisers before the start of next year’s fair, so they can give their inputs and suggest solutions for administrative and veterinary issues. As Dr Nath says, “It is important for Donkey Sanctuary India to be at these meetings to raise important issues and get facilities at the equine fair. These things cannot happen without the administration’s involvement.”
As the sun set over Barabanki on the last day of the fair, Dr Ramesh took stock of what the Donkey Sanctuary India team managed to achieve this year. “A sustainable fair is where everyone owns responsibility, including government vets. This has been the best advocacy we have achieved in a fair so far.”