The Brooke East Africa held an equine welfare workshop from November 17, 2020 to November 20, 2020 at Hill Court hotel in Nakuru to discuss the welfare issues that surround the working animals and to assist in improving the skills of the donkey handlers.
The workshop brought together representatives from organizations involved in advocacy of animal welfare that include and not limited to; The Brooke East Africa, Agency for Cross Border Pastoralists Development (APaD), Farming Systems Kenya (FSK), Kenya Network for Dissemination of Agricultural Technologies (KENDAT), Send A Cow Kenya (SACK) and Caritas Kitui.
At the start of the workshop, participants mounted their stickers with expectations of what they intended to get from the workshop.. These were available for viewing and discussion throughout the week.
The workshop methodology involved a combination of presentations, practical demonstrations, field visits and group discussions. Working in groups, participants were able to reflect on the key points of demonstrations and field visits and to share these with other groups.
Discussions around donkey welfare
When defining animal/ donkey welfare, we use four frameworks that include the five (5) animal freedoms, the five (5) animal welfare domains (Nutrition, environment, health, behavior and the mental domain), the PEN framework (Physical, Environmental and Natural aspects) and the HARE framework (Human, Animals, Resources, Environmental aspects that affect animal welfare)
Donkeys are crucial animals whose power is required for urban and rural development. In several counties in Kenya, the donkey as a working animal has so much to offer in assisting both rural and urban centers people in poverty alleviation.
There are over 1.8 million donkeys in Kenya and around three-quarters play a key role in Kenya’s agricultural economy. A perfect example is the arid and semi-arid areas such as Turkana county where APaD executes their work, that is inhabited by 95% pastoralists who depend on these working animals for livelihood.
In Turkana county and other donkey owning communities, donkeys are associated with tasks such as;
- Ferrying household goods among pastoralists from one place to another
- Transport of farm produce from the farm to the market
- Donkeys are used to ferry water from water sources to households in pastoralist communities
- Carrying of the sick and elderly from one point to another
- Some communities use donkeys to plough.
- Donkeys are kept for companionship
Despite being of help to mankind, around one-third of the working donkey population live in poor conditions, suffering from issues such as;
- Malnutrition: Malnutrition occurs when the donkeys lack food and water due to the drought that often strikes the Turkana region. They end up being underweight and malnourished.
- Dehydration is very common especially during the dry seasons for reasons such as not having enough to drink while working or resting.
- Disease and injury. Such include lameness – being unable to walk normally and having pain in their limbs, infection by parasites inside or on their bodies and body wounds on their bodies.
- Harsh Environmental Conditions. Donkeys carry heavy loads before their body can cope with the weight, accompanied by heat stress which can lead to death if left untreated. They are also overworked and end up experiencing extreme fatigue and susceptibility to infections.
- Behavior problems and restrictions. Donkeys at times have bad experiences with humans or something in their surroundings.
- Restricted movement. They at times feel uncomfortable or not being able to move freely.
- Poor management practices. Such include bad housing conditions of having no shelter or shade or being tied badly by their legs and harmful practices of being subjected to traditional treatment, mutilation or being abandoned after work.
- Donkey theft and slaughter such as the ongoing illegal slaughter at the Silzha abattoir, posing risks to the already diminishing donkey population.
Understanding the different behavior exhibited by donkeys is vitally important before any handling or training. Generally, donkeys naturally enjoy the company of their own kind and when other donkeys are not present they may feel lonely and depressed. It is therefore important to keep them in groups to enhance bonding.
How donkeys are handled will determine their behavior. An experienced trainer who communicates well with the donkey observing all the body language exhibited by the donkey is likely to have a smooth time as compared to an inexperienced donkey handler.
A slight widening of a donkey’s eyes might be misread as an increased curiosity, when it could actually mean fear or stress. A lack of movement away from a fearful object can easily be misinterpreted as confidence rather than the donkeys reduced flight response. Pointed ears are a sign of an alert or curious donkey while flat ears are used to signal fear, aggression, agitation or sickness. Tail switching may display discomfort and limb stamping may mean agitation. The better you get to know your donkey and what is usual for them, the easier it will be to spot these subtle changes.
When handling donkeys, one ought to be careful as they can use the following body parts to defend themselves; teeth to bite, the head to butt, the body trunk to crush, the fore limbs to trample, the hind limbs to kick and the tail switch to switch. These actions can all lead to severe injuries on the donkey handler.
Innovations in harnessing
The variety of harnessing options demonstrated at the workshop was wide. It ranged from the traditional harnessing as used by most donkey users through to new methods of harnessing, of which not every farmer can afford.
The traditional method of harnessing improves donkey welfare, in a way that is available, affordable and sustainable. Undoubtedly farmers will only be convinced through observation and trial in their own conditions and the different Community Development Officers (CDOs) were keen to ensure that they would transfer the same information to farmers as conveyed by the facilitators
Community Role in the Protection of Donkeys
The community that includes the donkey users, veterinarians, policy makers and the donkey owners have a big role to play in the protection of donkeys. Such include;
- Good donkey husbandry such as provision of feeds, water, shelter and basic health care.
- Reporting of animal cruelty to the relevant authorities
- Participation of law making processes that favor donkey welfare
- Abiding by the community by laws around donkey welfare
- Disease prevention and control
- Passing of laws that favor donkey welfare
The workshop generated so much enthusiasm for further action in handling and the protection of the welfare of donkeys among the participants and the general community.
In order to maintain the momentum generated at the workshop, it was agreed that each participant keeps themselves to date with the training activities by constant practice for the betterment of donkey handling and protection of their welfare and convey the same information to the community they serve.