Animal Welfare Society (AWES)-Cameroon was one of the beneficiaries of a grant from AKI in the course of 2020-2021. The objective of our grant was the provision of basic health services for donkeys working on cotton producing farms within the locality of Pitao in Garoua, northern Cameroon.
We started the work on the 15th of September 2020 and completed our project by the end of March 2021. The villages of Badjengo, made up of mostly cotton farmers, and Badjouma, made up of onion and cotton farmers, were the zones of the intervention.
Our activities were:
1) Sensitization campaigns on animal welfare
The campaigns took place in Badjengo and Badjouma Centre. Because of COVID-19 concerns, the campaigns were in the open-air, where facial masks were distributed and and hand washing stations were available.
Many of the active participants in the sensitization campaigns were children of school age and women, as they are the ones directly responsible for feeding, tethering, and caring for the donkeys. Though men were also involved, they play more or less a supervisory role as heads of families.
Other people involved in the sensitization campaigns were the local traditional head; the local livestock technical staff, Mr Oiyebo; a technician from Sodecoton (the cotton farmers' association), Mr Haman Ali; a representative of the Sodecoton farmers, Mr Signibe; veterinary support staff of AWES, Madame Colette; and Dr. Achiri Martin the founder of AWES, working specifically to coordinate these activities.
The campaigns permitted AWES to get better acquainted with the farmers and local veterinary technical staff, to discuss animal welfare with the participants, and to inform them of AWES and our activities. In Badjengo, we identified 44 members of the cotton farmers association, Mbor-moundang, having a total of 64 donkeys. In Badjouma Centre, the farmers were not yet organised as a group.
We disseminated 20 questionnaires, randomly to donkey owners, during the sensitization process in Badjouma Centre. These questionnaires revealed that all farmers use donkeys for ploughing and just a handful use them both for ploughing and transportation. The average size farm ploughed per farming season is 2 hectares per donkey. The majority of the donkeys spend the night untethered, grazing freely. Fewer than five owners have constructed shelters for their donkeys to spend nights. All the farmers complained of inadequate means to feed their animals as the major reason for allowing their animals to freely graze.
2) De-worming of donkeys
Prior to de-worming, we conducted lab analyses on 25 representative donkey fecal samples to assess the level and type of worm infestations. Our analysis revealed, in descending order, a high prevalence of Strongylus (blood worm), Parascaris (equine roundworm), Anoplocephala (tapeworm), and Fasciola (flat worms or liver flukes). In Badjengo village, we de-wormed 60 donkeys and in Badjouma Centre, we de-wormed 50 donkeys and 2 horses. De-worming was done by feeding the animals with calculated doses of de-worming boluses mixed with corn bran. Oxfendazole-oxyclozanide combination (OKZAN) was used for non-pregnant animals, whereas only oxfendazole was used for pregnant ones. Over the 6 months of this grant, we continued to de-worm donkeys, as needed.
3) Treatment of minor cases of ill-health
Spending much time in these villages, we were engaged in basic health care of donkeys and the treatment of cases of injuries, ocular discharges, and lameness. We treated injuries resulting from pricking by eagle birds [aka oxpeckers] and improper harness systems. For ocular discharges, caused by trypanosomiasis (transmitted by tsetse flies, which cause sleeping sickness), we administered anti-trypanosoma treatments and antibiotics, and these yielded positive results, the animals recovered. In this way, we treated more than 10 donkeys with ocular discharges.
While we were working in these villages, two donkeys strayed onto roads and were the victims of car accidents. Both donkeys died as a result of their injuries. When donkeys freely graze, especially at night, they may be struck by vehicles, and they can be victimized by thieves and skin traffickers, who will slaughter them for their meat and hide.
4) Feeding animals with corn bran
To encourage farmers to tether their animals to avoid them from straying during the night, AWES distributed 5 bags of corn bran to 5 deserving farmers as a motivation for keeping their animals within the household throughout the year.
5) Achievements, Lessons Learnt and Recommendations
Apart from realising the main goal of the project which was to provide basic health care to donkeys used by cotton farmers, we achieved additional results and have the following observations that can pave the way forward for future proposals and interventions.
1. During the period of the project we realised that feeding donkeys with corn bran was very much appreciated by the farmers. They even wished that the de-worming exercise be replaced with feeding. We talked to the farmers about how important de-worming is for working animals, especially those with a high parasite load.
2. AWES succeeded in organising donkey owners into an association. This will help guarantee sustainability as other activities within the community will be integrated into the association.
3. The farmers expressed their joy for the unprecedented work that AWES is doing for the donkeys within their locality. They offered gifts of onions to the AWES team, and expressed their hopes that AWES can continue to be associated with the community.
4. We developed a closer relationship with Sodecoton, the umbrella cotton farmers' association and they were able to see how important good vet care of working donkeys is.
5. While treating cotton farmers' donkeys for wounds, some of the children and other villagers brought their donkeys for treatment, as well. They felt that their animals should be given equal treatment, and many acknowledged that donkeys deserve health care just as human beings do.
5. In recognition of the sentience and individuality of donkeys (and all animals), we encouraged each farmer to name his donkey and we will use each donkey's name henceforth.