When The Donkey Sanctuary Ethiopia first visited Bera Tedicho village in Ethiopia, residents hardly noticed the suffering of their donkeys. Every day donkeys were overloaded, beaten and forced to work even when they were injured or sick without basic veterinary care. There were even people who intentionally wounded their donkeys because they believed the pain would make the donkey easier to control.
“I’d never used a pack saddle so I made my donkey carry on working even though there was a wound on his back,” says 40-year-old Adane Teferi. “I kept loading the donkey with jerry cans and wood because I didn’t know any other way.”
Dale district is home to around 7,200 donkeys. Most of the people here are subsistence farmers growing crops like coffee, cane sugar and avocado. Many rely on donkeys to carry essentials like water and firewood, but despite their role, the status of donkeys is not high, says Dr. Bojia Endebu, Country Manager for The Donkey Sanctuary Ethiopia.
“Ethiopia is such a religious country, people consider donkeys unclean animals so they are taken for granted,” he says. “They are not visible to policymakers, the owners, everybody. Because of that, donkeys are not treated like other livestock.”
Community education is key to changing attitudes from the grassroots up. One successful tactic is to set up an Animal Welfare Committee at village level. In Bera Tedicho, 15 people joined the committee representing different parts of village life from young people to school students, community elders and donkey owners. Adane was one of them.
There Bojia’s team demonstrated how important donkey welfare is to improving the lives of people who rely on them. The knowledge he gained at the meetings was transformational.
‘’I didn’t even know that a donkey can be treated like people,” Adane says. “When I saw The Donkey Sanctuary treating donkeys in a clinic and educating donkey owners about donkey welfare, I was astonished.”
He built a shelter for the donkey and made sure he never carried a load without a pack saddle.
“I cleaned the wound on his back every day with warm salty water until it got better,” Adane says.
As a committee member, Adane brings donkey owners together to discuss donkey welfare problems and find solutions. That was in 2011, now donkey owners know how to communicate with their donkeys through understanding of their behaviour and assessing welfare through the help of The Donkey Sanctuary’s simple practical tool The Hand (you can read more about The Hand in this link). Today, Adane and the other committee members are keen to spread the word.
‘’We are all committed to addressing bad public perceptions of donkeys in Bera. We will continue to educate our community in any gathering,’’ Adane says.
It’s certainly been an improvement for Adane’s donkey.
‘’If I hadn’t got the education from The Donkey Sanctuary Ethiopia, my donkey could have been eaten by a hyena by now.”