Donkey Diaries: Week One in Tanzania

You are here

Donkey Diaries: Week One in Tanzania

Tue 27th Nov 2018

Dr Ilona is leading the small team in Bukombe, Tanzania, striving to improve the health and welfare of the working donkeys in this community. She’s been keeping us up to date with diary entries and here is the first one! 

Our alarms went off at 5:30 and with coffee in a thermos we hit the mud roads at 6am to visit some areas where donkeys are working to pull loads of bricks or stones and sand.  Our team includes three Tanzanian paravets (Richard, Grace and Alex), one vet (Dr Thomas) and Dr. Drouise who is not a vet but a PhD in agriculture and collaborates with the donkey charity project and has been a great guide to us and explained a lot about Tanzania.

Overall the body condition of these donkeys was good but the most common problem are the yoke wounds that are caused by poorly fitting yokes (wooden bars) that press on the necks of the donkeys. Almost all the donkeys had yoke wounds of some degree, the worst of them being 20cm x 15cm in size and involving complete loss of skin. Even with such severity, the donkeys were still harnessed for work. 

The local charity, Tanzania Humane Animal Charity, has begun a program, sponsored by the AAA, to try to introduce a new type of cart where only one donkey pulls the cart and not by carrying the weight of the yoke on the neck but by pulling against a chest harness, like horses normally do. However, there are only very few of these carts currently in use and so far, we have not yet seen any in use by the community. We saw a couple of model demonstration carts at the donkey sanctuary/hospital site (work in progress there but looks promising!) and were also shown the harness and the swingle-tree (wooden or metal bar used to balance the pull of an animal when pulling a vehicle). These are the best solutions to prevent these wounds but we felt that a solid short-term solution is needed to immediately help the donkeys suffering from these wounds. So, we decided to try a doughnut bandage and went roaming into the market to look for cheap fabric, cotton and ropes as raw materials to make these doughnuts. 

We also invited three ladies from the neighbourhood to think of other designs for a padding that would prevent the wounds. They joined in making some doughnut bandages when they saw how they are made. They also own donkeys and because they also often carry loads on their heads while walking, they know how important it is to have something soft as a cushion and help to balance the bucket on their head, so they easily understood the benefit of these doughnuts for the donkeys. We are all very excited about these doughnuts and tomorrow will be trying them to see how they fit the donkeys and how the owners take to the idea.

Today, we got some tetanus vaccines and had a busy morning deworming and vaccinating 40 donkeys as well as attending to their yoke wounds and explaining to donkey owners about the doughnuts. Most of today's donkeys were gathered on a large open market area with about 40 adults and children crowding around us for each donkey case to watch what we were doing; it was a little chaotic at times!!

We have demonstrated some simple techniques for the paravets of the Tanzania Humane Charity, for example how to make a quick rope halter for good restraint of donkeys for treatments and how to use a hand-held pressure pump to wash wounds. They have picked up these techniques well and even though we attended the most donkeys today on the project so far, the work went more smoothly than before because everyone now knew what was to happen and how we treat the wounds. 

Unfortunately, we had only got 40 doses of tetanus vaccine so far so in the afternoon while Richard went to chase for more vaccine for tomorrow's clinic, we set up another donkey doughnut workshop with Stella and Sofia, two local donkey-owners. Sofia's donkey has really severe wounds and needs to be resting for at least two weeks. We have shown her how to clean the wounds daily and she has also got oral antibiotics and painkillers to continue the treatment. She is very motivated to help make donkey doughnuts to help prevent other donkeys suffering the same injuries as her donkey has. 

Many men also visited our donkey doughnut workshop and sat down to help make more doughnuts. It looks like this is becoming really popular and it’s great to see such a positive response from the community! Dr Aswin also showed them videos he had taken in the field when we introduced donkey doughnuts to other donkey owners.

In total we currently have 120 donkey entries and 25 donkey owner entries on the WVS app to help record the progress of the project.

I can't wait to update you on how next week goes!!