International animal welfare charity The Donkey Sanctuary has reduced the wounds and sores suffered by over 1,000 of Egypt’s brick kiln donkeys, by designing a modified type of cart harness and training local saddlers to make it.
Staff from the UK who visited Egypt in July reported that the new harness is now being widely used, not only in the kilns near the charity’s Egyptian base at Giza near Cairo which its teams visit regularly, but also in kilns as far as 1,200km away which they have never visited. The charity estimates that so far around 1,350 donkeys are having easier working lives as a result.
The kiln donkeys are used to pull cartloads of bricks which can weigh two tonnes, including the weight of the cart itself. The typical model of harness was poor, and commonly caused painful sores where it chafed against the donkey’s body. The modified harness has a more direct angle of ‘pull’ which puts less strain on the donkey as well as preventing wounds. As well as being more comfortable for the donkeys, enabling them to work better, it is more durable than the type previously in use.
While the Donkey Sanctuary has been working to improve the cart harness being used in the kilns for several years, the breakthrough has been achieved in the past 12 months through the activities of two local saddlers. A year ago they were trained to make the modified type by the charity’s international harness consultant Chris Garrett and its Egyptian harness officer Farid Shawky. Since then the saddlers have been promoting and selling it at the 60-odd kilns they supply, and the owners have gradually recognised its benefits for themselves. Word has been spreading and the saddlers have seen demand increase.
Now it seems that a significant tipping point has been reached, with owners telling each other about the new type of harness. The two saddlers are now supplying 120 kilns in the Giza area, and orders have also been coming in from one big kiln in Aswan, 1,000km away, and another in New Valley, 1,200km away.
Chris Garrett visited Egypt in July and was able to see for himself that the donkeys fitted with the new harness were not developing new wounds, and the old sores were healing.
“I think this is a massive step forward,” he said. “The saddlers are getting bigger orders now and the owners are treating them with a lot more respect, and listening to their advice. I have heard several owners stating that it is sound economically to buy good quality fitted harness, since the donkeys remain wound free, and work better.” He added that many owners had also taken the charity’s advice to reduce the number of bricks on the carts, and improve the stabling for the donkeys.
The Donkey Sanctuary’s Director of International Operations, Stephen Blakeway, said, ”This is a good example of how our overseas strategy works in practice - providing training to prevent suffering alongside veterinary treatments and community education.”