The BBC used to announce occasionally “the following programme is not for those of a weak or squeamish disposition” – so it is with the next story, and especially the photos – though redeemed by a happy ending.
Let me explain – the capital of Mauritania, Nouakchott was not planned very well when it was created in the desert about fifty years ago – mainly, they forgot to install any water system.
So, there are in excess of seventy thousand donkeys pulling carts with two forty-gallon drums of water round the streets, for the good citizens to buy.
Looking after those donkeys is the principal work of SPANA in the country.
It gets even more bizarre.
There is no agriculture – the city is smack in the middle of a desert – so everything has to be imported, or carted up from the Senegal river valley in the south – making everything pretty expensive. The resulting diet for the donkeys has become based on cardboard boxes. They’re cut up, it’s true, and some millet meal is added – but basically that’s what these donks – labouring ten to twelve hours a day -do it on. And I have to say, it’s amazing, but they look pretty good on it. I suppose cardboard is cellulose after all, and they get about three kilos a day.
Anyway, you very seldom see a thin donkey.
But their biggest problem is the cart and its steering – or lack of it. They don’t have any bridles or reins, so the drivers steer the animals by whopping the round the side of the head, opposite to the way they want them to turn. (Admittedly, the better drivers just hit the shafts alongside the body). This can cause horrific wounds – we have had a campaign, making and distributing six thousand head-collars – to try and change the system – but we still see terrible damage.
Yesterday, we saw this poor wretched creature, with a swelling the size of a football on it’s flank. Worse, the wretched creature that owned it, had then ‘fired’ the original wound with a red hot iron – eventually creating this enormous abscess.
The animal was trembling with the shock and pain of it.
We cleaned it, and shaved the incision point, and blurghh – at least three litres of pus and blood hosed out. Just the job before lunch.
We took it back to the clinic, and with drainage put into the wound, antibiotics and plenty of TLC, the animal was unrecognisable this morning, tucking into his grub, after a good night’s sleep.
I know what I’d like to do to that owner.
Monday, 7 December 2009
Friday, 4 December 2009
Jeremy’s blog has been taken over once again, this time by Kirsty Brzeczek, SPANA’s Fundraising and Supporter Care Officer who recently returned from a tour of SPANA’s clinics in Tunisia.
As a member of SPANA’s fundraising team, I’ve spent the majority of the past year sat at my desk at London HQ. I liaise with our supporters to keep the funds coming in and also manage SPANA’s events – at least this does get me out and about occasionally, the furthest so far having been Birmingham for the annual British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) congress.
This was all to change though when I was given the opportunity to accompany Karen Reed, SPANA’s Veterinary Director on her whistle-stop tour of our clinics in Tunisia. I of course jumped at the chance as this was just what I needed to finally be able to speak about SPANA’s work from my own experience and understand what all the hard work is really for.
We had only four full days, and three clinics to visit (Bou Salem, Kasserine and Kebili) so we managed a brief stop at each one. I was extremely impressed with each of the different clinics, the buildings were all smartly painted in white and the stables kept clean and tidy. They were peaceful places with pretty gardens and the quiet munching of the animals for company. In stark contrast to this were the souks (local markets) which we visited with the Mobile Clinics that travel out each day.
On the journey to Souk Joumaa, I was very excited to spot my first donkey pulling a cart, and was soon spotting them all over the place! And as we drew up, past the souk to an empty place to park, I was wide-eyed at the site of the “Donkey Park”. This is basically the equivalent of Tesco’s car park and I can honestly say I’ve never seen so many donkeys in my life!
There was a steady stream of owners bringing their animals to the mobile clinic, most were complaining that their donkey or mule had been coughing so they were given the worming treatment. A couple had doses of antibiotics and I saw one very small sore on a donkey’s nose where the rope of his head collar had been rubbing. The wound was cleaned and the donkey was rewarded with a nice soft bright pink noseband to stop the rubbing from recurring.
As this souk is in a hilly area people tend to ride on the backs of their animals with their loads, and generally they were so tall compared to their donkeys that their feet were almost at the ground when sitting astride – to get on, all they needed to do was swing a leg over, no leg-up required! I was intrigued to see a couple of goats running along tied to the back of one donkey and even a sheep being carried on top of another!
Next was the souk in Majden bel Abbas. When we arrived, it was already in full swing and a very noisy and crazy place it was! Once again, the animals were everywhere you looked, down every street and round every corner, and unfortunately also in the rubbish-strewn area at the back.
Probably the worst case I saw was a lame horse with swollen back legs and it came to light that the owner had fired the horse’s back legs due to the myth that this would cure its colic. The horse had recovered from its colic but just naturally, not because of the firing. The wounds were cleaned and treated and the owner spoken to.
We had an interesting stop into a Halfa (type of grass harvested to make paper) collection point that day where a lady brought her donkey in with its load on its back. She’d come about 6km and it took three men to hoist the single donkey’s load onto the weighing scales where it was discovered that it weighed about 170kgs. The donkey didn’t seem too fussed and fortunately he had a well padded saddle.
Lastly was Souk Lahad – probably the craziest souk I’d seen so far. The treatment of the animals by our mobile clinic creates quite a lot of interest to some of the local people, particularly the young men who are keen to “help” when there’s a frisky horse who needs controlling because it’s not particularly happy about being treated. Unfortunately this can also be quite a hindrance as when there are so many people crowding around, it just makes the animal more nervous. Particularly as at this souk, the only place really to park is next to the busy road so not only are the vets and technicians contending with hoards of people, but also the traffic noise and the occasional guy who rocks right up to the action on his moped.
The SPANA staff stay calm and patient in the face of all this though, and I was particularly impressed with the technician, Miloud. A young horse was brought over to the clinic with really overgrown front hooves that were making it difficult for him to walk so Miloud needed to trim them down. The young horse wasn’t really having any of it though, clearly not used to having his legs and hooves handled, but Miloud didn’t give up and each time the horse got scared and reared and kicked, he’d just calmly start over again, until he’d done all he could.
The 6 hour drive back to Tunis gave me plenty of time to reflect on what a fantastic experience this had been. I knew there must have been a lot of working animals out there but I really had no idea there were that many! It was brilliant to be able to meet the SPANA technicians and see how much pride they clearly take in their jobs. Fortunately I didn’t see any particularly distressing cases and I think this has a lot to do with the great work that SPANA has been doing over the past years in Tunisia.
It was a truly humbling experience to realise that if it wasn’t for all the work that us at the office and all of our supporters do here in the UK, then none of what I saw would be happening at all; those animals would be left to suffer and their owners would suffer as a result.