Lamu residents are lucky to have the Donkey Sanctuary, an animal welfare hospital on Lamu island, spearhead this year’s Natinal Donkey Welfare Day.
The sanctuary was established in 1987 with the sole objective of taking care of sick, orphaned, old and abandoned donkeys at no cost.
The sanctuary’s senior vet Felix Rachuonyo says this year, much of the focus will be localised, as they try to delve into issues affecting the Lamu donkey and how to make their lives better and as productive as can be.
Donkeys remain at the heart of Lamu’s existence and age-old tradition; none can function without the other. Lamu town alone has over 5,000 donkeys, and the population is rising.
Rachuonyo says as Kenya marks Donkey Day, theIr efforts as will be centered on four pillars.
These are: Educating the public on the fundamental role donkeys play in the society; Airing the plight of donkeys due to inhumane handling and possible remedies; Providing an educational forum where people can learn basic donkey upkeep practices; and Creating awareness on the threat from donkey skin trade.
Rachuonyo says despite spreading awareness on the rights of the donkey, many handlers still treat the animals as though they were only created to serve and not be served.
He says, it’s still hard for many to believe that donkeys too have rights and needs that should first be taken into account before expecting their utmost productivity.
“A place like Lamu can’t function without donkeys. That’s just how it was wired since days yonder. In as much as the animals are expected to carry loads and what have you, it comes at a cost.That you understand what they need and act accordingly. Don’t expect an outcome where you haven’t made an input,” Rachuonyo says.
Many donkeys in Lamu still face inhumane treatment from handlers, while others are neglected but still expected to perform their functions normally.
He says donkey abuse is a reality the world must face. To ensure long-lasting change, the public needs to be educated on the need for fair treatment.
The vet says most donkey owners and handlers do not know how to deal with an angry donkey. As such, they end up hurting them through use of crude punishments.
"Donkeys here are whipped thoroughly till they are sore.Some are cut with pangas or machetes while others are poured hot water on. After such treatment, that same donkey is expected to act as though nothing happened and serve its master well. It’s wrong and must stop," Rachuonyo says.
He said many donkeys suffer from lameness caused by regular beatings and overloading, while others are denied food and end up suffering from colic after they are forced to feed on dirt in dumpsites whenever they are hungry.
"These animals are equally living things and need energy that will eventually enable them to perform better," Rachuonyo says.
This year’s fete will also open a platform for Lamu donkey owners to learn healthier donkey upkeep practices for maximum benefit.
"We shall focus more on training owners and handlers and the society on how to restrain, handle and communicate with the donkeys, taking into consideration their welfare and well-being. We shall train them on basic wound management, hoof care and disease detection," Rachuonyo says.
He says donkeys have rights that must be recognised and observed by all handlers and the society.
These are: Freedom from hunger, meaning they should be provided with adequate food and water; Freedom to comfort, and Right to shelter.
Others include: Freedom to express normal behaviour; Right to treatment when sick; Freedom to socialise with other donkeys; Right to love and kindness; and Right to a good rest between work.
Although skin trade has not penetrated Lamu, the vet says there are concerns due to the obvious presence of donkeys.
He says they are taking all the necessary measures, including creating awareness of the dark trade to the masses in Lamu.
He adds that this year, much of their efforts will be on enlightening the public to keep skin trade at bay.
"Not a single case of skin trade has been recorded here and we are glad about that. But we are cautious and are doing all we can to educate the masses on what to do and look out for so that Lamu stays that way," Rachuonyo says.
"We haven’t had cases where a donkey disappeared and its owner never found it again and we are hoping it stays that way. We shall be telling the masses what the trade is about. Knowledge has always been power."