I shall try to follow the example set by a Kenyan woman when introducing her presentation on donkey welfare, this should be short enough to hold your attention and long enough to cover the essentials!
In April, veterinarians gathered from around the globe to attend the first Joint Commonwealth & Kenya Veterinary Association Conference in Nairobi under the banner of the Commonwealth Veterinary Association (CVA); vets and others from Africa harked to the flag of the Kenya Veterinary Association (KVA). The Donkey Sanctuary was represented by local Kenya staff who engaged with all comers at the Donkey Sanctuary conference stand and also on our field trip to Kajiado – such as the Masai women who learnt of practical ways of improving donkey welfare through use of better, locally sustainable harness materials. The wider Donkey Sanctuary organisation was most professionally represented by Alex Mayers and Dr Kevin Brown.
Alex and Kevin, along with Donkey Sanctuary Kenya vet Dr Solomon Onyango gave informative, insightful, instructive presentations to conference delegates. Kevin is taking the lead on major projects overseas and was ideally placed to give delegates an overview of our work; to advise on the need to carefully plan (and assess the impact of) the interventions we make; and he stressed the importance of making a long-term difference – sustainability. Solomon spoke of the local position and made the key point that we must better understand where we are now (through proper research) so as to map our way to where we’d prefer to be. Statistics on donkey numbers and locations, for example, are both severely lacking and outdated.
In line with his role leading on donkey welfare themes Alex spoke eloquently of the adverse effects of the huge demand for ejiao (donkey skin extract) in China. This impacts heavily both on donkey welfare and on the people dependent on donkeys for their livelihood in the developing world. It would make you weep to listen to him tell of donkey thievery in the night, slaughter-without-stunning, of carcass skinning (all to service an export trade) and the discarding of the remains to rot where they lie. And, the potential must exist for the spread of both equine and human disease from this largely unregulated trade. Alex has been tireless advocating for the welfare of donkeys and those who keep them, in opposition to the relentless drive for global trade in ‘commodities’ at all and any cost.
Aside from the science this event was a great networking opportunity – The Kenya Minister for Agriculture, his senior civil servants and veterinary staff as well as key representatives from other African countries were all there for the talking to, if only you made the effort. The President of the CVA, Dr Peter Thormber, works as a consultant for The Donkey Sanctuary. The conference was a great opportunity, for me especially, to meet with him, to discuss the big issues (which must be tackled in partnership with global bodies such as the World Organisation for Animal Health) and to learn from his wide-ranging experience – equine welfare of course but also specific health issues such as the outbreak of equine influenza that he helped contain in Australia.
I also got to spend most valuable time with Dr Vijay Varma – what a mine of information and what a most lovely and hospitable man he is! He took time out to show me the Kenya Jockey Club (where he works), and both Kenya Society for the Protection and Care of Animals (KSPCA) and Donkey Sanctuary Kenya (where he is on the board of Trustees).
I am grateful to Alex and to Kevin, to their support staff based in Devon and to the local Donkey Sanctuary Kenya staff such as Florence, Josiah and Nicholas for organising the logistics, for hosting me, for introducing me and for informing me so thoroughly all the way through.
Go raibh mile maith agaibh! (thank you in Irish!)