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Zen and the art of equine trading in Barabanki

Each year in October, about a week before the full moon lights up the night sky, the town of Dewa Sharif in eastern Uttar Pradesh comes alive with the sights and sounds of one of north India’s largest equine fairs.

The Barabanki Fair, or the Dewa Mela as it’s also known, has been taking place annually for over a century to commemorate the Sufi saint Haji Waris Ali Shah. Hundreds of traders and thousands of donkeys, mules and horses descend upon the fair grounds for a week of hectic trading, and an entire local economy springs up around them.

Unloading onto makeshift ramp at Barabanki equine fair

A common goal

It was really difficult getting these senior managers to stay in one position long enough to take a photo, they were too interested in talking to each other and the donkeys! They headed to our headquarters in Devon recently for training and to exchange ideas about improving donkey welfare across the world.

Donkey Sanctuary staff from across the world meet in Devon

Villagers open their eyes to donkey welfare

When The Donkey Sanctuary Ethiopia first visited Bera Tedicho village in Ethiopia, residents hardly noticed the suffering of their donkeys. Every day donkeys were overloaded, beaten and forced to work even when they were injured or sick without basic veterinary care. There were even people who intentionally wounded their donkeys because they believed the pain would make the donkey easier to control.

Animal Welfare Committee in Ethiopia

From burden to blessing: Tewachew's story

Tewachew Sheferaw, 28, was once considered a burden to his family and the community. Having suffered polio as a baby, his legs are withered and he finds walking long distances and most farm work very difficult. His fellow residents in the village of Gurbite in Ethiopia believed he would always be dependent on others to survive. Living in a shack with his younger brother, every day he worried about where his next meal was going to come from.

Harness maker trained by The Donkey Sanctuary in Ethiopia

Walking for Donkeys

Imagine walking the length of 225 football pitches every day for six months in hot, dusty conditions, carrying on your back a load equal to your own body weight over half that distance. That’s what the donkeys and mules working in Rajakhera, India, must do in the brickmaking season between December and June each year, as they carry bricks from fields where they are being sun-dried to the furnaces where they will be baked.

Donkeys in Ethiopia working in the construction

Living the dream

It was a bright summer day in the town of Teotlalco Puebla in south-eastern Mexico, and a 14-year-old boy stood watching staff from Donkey Sanctuary Mexico set up a clinic in his community to treat working mules and donkeys. As he observed the dedicated team engage with local equine owners and treat working mules and donkeys, something sparked within him. “I was like ‘wow!’ on seeing their work,” Mauro Madariaga Najera reminisces about that day almost 25 years ago. “I began thinking of working for them.” Six years after that fateful day, a determined Mauro enrolled in a vet school in Mexico City and began volunteering with Donkey Sanctuary Mexico every day after class, eventually being invited to join the team as Assistant Vet. Today that awestruck schoolboy is Donkey Sanctuary Mexico’s equine behaviour expert, helping change the ways in which donkeys and mules are trained and handled across the country.

Mauro Madariaga Najera, Donkey Sanctuary Mexico's equine behaviour expert, says he is living his childhood dream


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