Last month I was lucky enough to be working from our Devon Sanctuary at the same time as the Carols by Candlelight service. I joined colleagues and friends to experience my first Candlelight service since joining The Donkey Sanctuary 18 months ago. The atmosphere was magical and, as you would expect, one of the most popular songs of the evening was ‘Little Donkey’ which tells of the long dusty journey to Bethlehem.
Whether in the brick kilns of India or green meadows of Devon – foot problems are an issue affecting donkeys across the world. Twenty-nine people currently practise farriery in our projects internationally, but some in different ways to others. To make the most of their wealth of knowledge and experience The Donkey Sanctuary recently organised a workshop in Egypt to bring people together from across the world to share ideas and put together competency standards everyone could take home.
With rugged hills and mountains, Dansa village in Hintalo Wijerat district, 9 miles from Mekelle city in Tigray region, is the home of 250 donkeys in 300 households. The community in Dansa village relies heavily on subsistence farming. Every Monday and Friday many donkey owners in Dansa village transport vegetables and fruits to markets in Mekelle town. Due to uneven hilly topography, donkey owners in the village have to fasten a strap to a pack saddle looping under the tail of their donkey to prevent the load from slipping forward. In the past the strap was a rough thin rope which caused a wound under the tail, known as a crupper wound, on many donkeys. Based on an assessment we did two years back in a focus group discussion with donkey owners in Dansa village, 97% of donkeys had crupper wounds.
In 2008 we were looking for local harness makers in El Saf brick kilns when I met an elderly man called Salah. I was with Chris Garrett, International Harness Consultant for The Donkey Sanctuary. At that time we knew that the hitching point where the cart is attached to the harness was the main cause of wounds in all the kilns.
The story is familiar, repeated since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in rural Shropshire, where I’m from, and still unfolding here in Rajasthan in the little village of Banmor. The village itself looks old, squeezed in between the busy dual carriageway between nearby cities of Gwalior and Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, and the equally busy rail track. We sit under a tree with local donkey and mule owners. Small tin cups of the rich spicy chai (tea) are passed around and folk start to talk.
We all enjoy seeing pictures of donkey foals exploring and enjoying all that life has to offer, however, what does the future hold for foals once these bundles of fluff begin to grow up? Well the truth of the matter is, it depends.
The life of donkeys in Great Britain can vary wildly between those leading happy, enriched and healthy lives; to those who are provided with just enough to meet their basic welfare needs; and sadly, to those who are forgotten, mistreated and abused through incorrect management, ignorance, neglect or wilful cruelty.
Every donkey that arrives at The Donkey Sanctuary has a story to tell. Knowing the background of the donkeys who come into our care is often an important part of understanding their individual character, behaviour or care needs. Today I would like to introduce you to the story of three very special donkeys called Rocky, Eidie and Jenny.