Donkey welfare in Meru

The harness and carts used for hauling are remarkably poorly designed for donkeys. The crossbeam is
placed on the bottom of the donkey’s neck and held in place with a single strap. The carts are more
suitable for oxen, who have a shorter neck and are more able to pull with their necks. Donkeys are
designed to pull from their shoulders and carry weight on their backs and hips.

In January of 2023 and 2024, I traveled to Kenya with FHF through grants from the Sir James Dunn
Animal Welfare Center and the Atlantic Veterinary College Internal Research Fund. The goal of these
projects included surveying owners about the husbandry and care provided to donkeys. Evaluating
welfare and providing health clinics including vaccinations, de-worming, teeth and hoof care has
occurred with over 350 donkeys in these two years.

Through these trips, we have learned the role that donkeys play in household and economy. Donkeys in more arid areas, such as Nkando and the region of the Mwende Women’s group are breeding females (known as Jenny’s), as well as pack animal for livestock and household water on a daily basis. In the Naari and Kibirichia, male donkeys (known as Jacks) in teams of two, pull carts to haul firewood, market goods, milk and feed for cattle.

With the hilly terrain in so many areas, donkeys can move water and goods where even a motorbike would have difficulty. Their care is quite minimal, with donkeys mostly being tethered to graze for their feed.

There is a big opportunity to improve the working conditions and welfare of working donkeys if a more welfare friendly cart and harness could be adopted by donkey owners and drivers in Meru. There are areas in Kenya that have carts designed for donkeys in common use that could be introduced to Meru.

Through the Sir James Dunn Animal Welfare Center, there is funding for two more years (2025-2026) of
continued effort to develop and support the use of an improved welfare cart.

Through the support of Farmers Helping Farmers, the working donkey welfare project has started to lay
the groundwork for improved health and working conditions for these animals. Continued efforts
through health clinics, seminars to support information dissemination and introduction of modified,
welfare friendly carts will hopefully serve to improve the lives of donkeys and their owners. I hope this
project will make the conversation about donkey welfare more commonplace and ‘kidogo, kidogo’ (little
by little) improve the lives of these tough little, long-eared creatures.

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