Animal Nepal’s Working Equine Outreach Programme supports some 1500 equines working in Kathmandu brick factories. Surveys show that thanks to various interventions the conditions of equines have greatly improved. Nowadays the loads are smaller, beating has decreased, and the general health conditions of the animals are far better than before.
To some extent this is true – inputs such as regular workshops for owners and handlers, regular de-worming and vaccinations, first aid boxes, improved harnesses, hoof cleaners, health camps and educational workshops have had a visible impact.
But we still have much work to do. We recently went on a rescue mission to a local open air factory that employs some fifty donkeys, mules and horses to carry unfired mud bricks from a hilltop down to the kiln where they are baked. We had to walk up a hill to find what we came for. Today we brought a first aid box and planned to teach the donkey owners (four in total) how to use the medicines.
However, when we parked the car inside the factory a very different picture emerged. Children dressed in rags, carrying younger siblings on their back, surrounded the ambulance. Their faces were covered in dust; some of the toddlers’ heads were shaven to prevent lice. There were no adults around; while the parents worked the children had to take of themselves and each other. None of the children had any toys. A boy wearing a dirty Nepali topi pulled a wooden brick mould behind him through the dust.
The owners of this particular factory are cooperative, and often call us when a donkey is sick. Still, we were shocked by the conditions of the animals. They were overloaded and continuously beaten by wiry handlers, boys from poor families, as young as eleven.
The vets immediately started treating the animals. Apart from saddle wounds the donkeys and mules suffered from hoof problems and eye infections. There was one severely malnourished mule stood alone, too weak to move. A mule suffering from laminitis, a very painful condition caused by inflammation of the hoof, was given two weeks rest.
We were asked to have a look at one of the newer donkeys over at the night shelter and found a pathetic looking donkey, lying on the path. The creature was dehydrated and malnourished, and seemed unable to walk. Her name is Shree Devi. After a long, bumpy ride, we had to literally pull her to her retirement home, supporting her back legs.
When she arrived the twelve other resident donkeys left the night shelter to sniff at Shree Devi. She easily passed the test. Shree Devi then enjoyed the first of many nourishing meals in her new home.
Recently four new staff have been recruited to intensify our support services. The new team is awesome; they work from dusk till dawn to improve the lives of Kathmandu’s ‘beasts of burden’.
However, occasionally we still come across abused and injured donkeys such as Shree Devi. We pray that next time when we visit a brick factory we will be able to leave empty handed…
Lucia de Vries
Volunteer Director Animal Nepal