The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Ethiopia's Donkeys - Providing Sanctuary from Suffering

Author - Dawn Vincent

My visit to Ethiopia, over two years ago now, is perhaps one of the most memorable trips during my 12-years working for The Donkey Sanctuary.

I'm based at the charity's headquarters near Sidmouth in Devon, and we are currently providing refuge to over 4,000 neglected or unwanted donkeys in the UK, Ireland and other parts of Europe.

Each donkey is guaranteed a Sanctuary for life. From my office, I can hear the brays of elderly donkeys living in one of the barns close by and it is comforting to know that they receive the expert, loving care they deserve.

Working Donkeys in Ethiopia
Photo © The Donkey Sanctuary

What I remember most about my trip is the stark contrast of our international projects. In Ethiopia and many other developing countries, donkeys provide cheap, essential transport to millions of people living below the poverty line. Though taken for granted, they are often a family's most reliable helper.

Donkeys are used for the most basic of needs such as carrying drinking water, food and fuel and often help provide a family's income too. Yet sadly, when their donkey falls ill or becomes injured, very few owners can afford to pay for a vet to help ease their donkey's suffering. And that's where we come in...

In 1986, we forged a working partnership with the University of Addis Ababa's Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Debre Zeit, situated 30km south of Addis Ababa. It enabled us to reach donkeys in terrible distress.

Today the project costs over £350,000 to run each year and employs 40 local staff.

Our donkey hospital at the Debre Zeit site, equipped with an operating theatre, laboratory and recovery stables, enables us to provide extensive treatment to sick donkeys and mules and around 250 are admitted each year.

The hospital is open every day for emergencies and holds regular 'open' clinics twice a week where it is not unusual for our teams to see up to 1,000 donkeys in one day, brought in by owners from the town and surrounding villages.

Two mobile clinics operate in a 150km radius of Debre Zeit, visiting donkeys and owners too far away to visit the hospital.

In the north of Ethiopia, through the regional Bureaux of Agriculture and Rural Development, two mobile clinics operate in a 100km radius of Bahir Dar (Amhara) and Mekele (Tigray). In the south we operate a clinic in a 100km radius of Awassa. The Donkey Sanctuary became registered as a NGO in Ethiopia late 2008.

Vetinary care is given to donkeys and advice to their owners in Ethiopia
Photo © The Donkey Sanctuary

We have most recently built a clinic in the heart of Merkato Market, Addis Ababa. This provides a source of veterinary aid to the 3,000 donkeys estimated to pass through the market every day.

The donkeys that arrive at our clinics are often thin and exhausted. Teeth and foot problems are common. The donkeys can be infested with worms or lice and they are usually suffering open wounds caused by poor harnessing or regular whipping. For the donkeys, receiving treatment offers them a much deserved opportunity to rest and receive expert veterinary care. Their teeth and feet are tended to and any wounds are nursed by our caring staff.

We also invest time working with owners, teaching them more about their donkeys' needs. Staff talk through the donkey's condition or illness and any aftercare that the owner may need to help with. They also suggest to owners how they can prevent re-occurring problems, such as harness wounds or lameness.

Soritcha brings his donkey Bule for treatment to harnessing wounds
Photo © The Donkey Sanctuary

At Adulala market in the Debre Zeit region of Ethiopia, I met Soritcha and his donkey Bule. His family relied entirely on this little donkey every day for collecting clean drinking water from special bore holes, carrying goods to and from market and carrying crops.

Bule was the saddest donkey I met during my trip. She was extremely thin - the result of worm burden, pain from her back wound and being overworked. Fortunately, her owner Soritcha was able to attend our free mobile clinic which visits every two weeks.

Our caring clinic team provided some essential first aid to Bule's wound, gave her a dose of 'wormer' and then fitted one of our specially designed therapeutic saddles, which allows her wound to heal whilst her owner continues to work her (the owners cannot manage to rest Bule). Sorticha was given advice about how to help Bule's condition improve and how to use the saddle effectively to prevent Bule suffering unnecessarily.

Educational advice is given to owners at Adulala market
Photo © The Donkey Sanctuary

Bule was one of 675 donkeys our team treated that day at Adulala Market. I was exhausted just observing the team as they worked tirelessly to help every donkey.

There are so many donkeys in the world needing help, including more than 3.4 million donkeys and mules in Ethiopia, that we cannot reach them all through our mobile and static clinics.

Our teams also offer husbandry advice and harnessing workshops to donkey owners and hold talks for local school children. We also train vets, vet students and animal health assistants within countries, so that they may improve the treatment they give to the donkeys.

I love animals so this trip was difficult for me as I had to face thousands of donkeys who I just knew were tired and unhappy but nonetheless plodding on with life - because that's what donkeys seem to do well. What made it bearable was that our teams gave the donkeys some much needed 'TLC' - a little 'Sanctuary from Suffering' if you like.

First Published in News File Spring 2009

Opinions expressed in the articles are those of the authors and not necessarily the views of the Society.
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