Most Ethiopian donkeys are used as pack animals, and one of the commonest welfare problems is the painful back wounds they develop, caused by inadequate padding underneath their heavy loads.
Our team designed a simple pad to go underneath the wooden saddle frame, made of natural sisal sacking and stuffed with straw; the materials were cheap and always sourced locally. It’s designed to fit the donkey’s dorsal bone structure, cushioning the load against the raised central area where wounds commonly develop.
At first we distributed the pack saddle padding to owners. When in use, it did prevent wounds, but when it wore out, people went back to using old rags or nylon sacks, which don’t give enough protection. We needed a more sustainable solution.
We identified groups of people in several village communities who were looking for a new source of income, and trained them to make the saddle pads. Our work in these villages had already created a demand for the pads, with many owners pleased that they enabled their donkeys to work more comfortably and efficiently.
Now we have trained saddle-pad makers in dozens of villages in the four regions of Ethiopia where we work. Owners are happy to buy the pads - or in some cases, copy the design themselves - and there’s been a marked reduction in harness-related back wounds in these areas.