I have recently returned from South Africa where I was responsible for running a series of lectures, workshops and community engagement activities alongside our Director of Veterinary Services, Andrew Trawford, and the University of Pretoria Veterinary Faculty.
In some impoverished areas of South Africa, donkey carts are the only mode of transport. The donkeys are usually malnourished, with sores and injuries, and most have never had any veterinary attention. The carts and harness are in poor condition as well as being unsuitable for the donkeys; this country has some of the worst cart and harness problems we have ever seen.
Fortunately, there are several small organisations working to improve donkey welfare and give owners the knowledge and skills to look after them better. In the De Rust area, we have been helping to fund the Donkey Awareness Project since 2006. This group has developed a donkey cart owner association, allowing members access to a workshop where they can get their carts and harness mended. Staff at this project also designed a four-wheeled cart with three shafts which could be used with a simple donkey harness, rather than the more expensive and complicated type which is generally used for harnessing donkeys to a single-shaft cart designed primarily for oxen. The group also trains donkey cart drivers and generally promotes donkey welfare.
In McGregor, we help to support the Eseltjiesrus Donkey Sanctuary, which offers refuge and care to elderly and abused animals while also working hard to change people's negative perceptions and beliefs about the donkey. Its motto is 'a culture of caring'. The group running the sanctuary organises visits for local schools, teaching pupils about donkeys and their needs. The sanctuary also invites adults with special needs to come and interact with the donkeys, and is open to the general public. We recently paid towards a new visitor centre at the sanctuary (up until then, all the educational activities were taking place outside) and have also funded the development of educational materials. These include a teachers' pack for primary schools, available in both Afrikaans and English.
We are also helping with the teaching of donkey health and welfare at the University of Pretoria's Faculty of Veterinary Science at Onderstepoort, which has established links with our UK veterinary department. For the last few years we have run annual workshops on aspects of donkey care including hoofcare and dentistry.
Also in South Africa we have funded harness production and distribution initiatives co-ordinated by the NSPCA (the national co-ordinating body for the various Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals groups or SPCAs. The harness is distributed through the SPCAs' outreach programmes in various parts of the country.