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  • KarenAshville

AKI Grantee: MARES (Zimbabwe)

Founded in May 2018, Matabeleland Animal Rescue & Equine Sanctuary (MARES) teaches donkey owners about improved donkey care and welfare. They focus on the correct hitching of carts to donkeys, including weight distribution, maximum weights and difference between pulling weight as opposed to direct downward weight. The making of humane padded harnesses becomes a community workshop, empowering people to make their own. In 2021, MARES was awarded an Africa-Based Animal Welfare Organization Grant to implement their project:

Education and Making of Humane Cost-Effective Harnesses and Yokes for Donkeys

donkey carts lined up for repairs
Scotch carts lined up eagerly awaiting refurbishment. Note the ill-fitting harnesses in the forefront and new ones on the left.

In August 2021, as they readied for their AKI grant project, the MARES donkey sanctuary was turned into a manufacturing plant! Metal rings, buckles and pins were crafted from raw metal to be used in making donkey harnesses. MARES founder, Claire Einhorn, explained that there is a dire need for humane and properly fitting harnesses to replace the old, ill-fitting harnesses which so often result in injuries and even permanent disfigurement to the donkeys.

Loaded with the new harnesses, the MARES six-person team, including a veterinarian, ventured into four villages around Bulawayo in Zimbabwe. Over the course of two days, Nkosana Khumalo, MARES administrator and translator, met with donkey owners to provide all-important education on the proper care of the animals and loading of the carts. Nkosana was especially pleased that the donkey owners responded positively to the group’s visit and were really grateful for the advice.

donkeys poorly harnessed to the cart
Donkeys are placed so close to the cart, they end up with wounds on the back of their legs from colliding with the cart, as well as from the poorly made harnesses. This is exactly the problem that MARES is addressing.

Claire described that the hardest part of the education program was to convince the donkey owners to only use two donkeys and not their normal four, showing them that the two outside donkeys were definitely not sharing in the weight load of the cart. MARES staff demonstrated this by using humans as donkeys and with much laughter, got the message across!

MARES also emphasized that no donkey under the age of three should be put in a harness. Working through the police, MARES hopes that anyone continuing to use underage donkeys will have the donkeys confiscated until they are older. This measure is so important, Claire explained, as they have rescued far too many young donkeys with permanent damage to their backs, necks, hooves and joints.

Funded by AKI's Africa-Based Animal Welfare Organization Grant Program, during the two-day outreach program, 25 owners had their carts totally remodeled and their donkeys’ ill-fitting harnesses exchanged for MARES’ humane padded harnesses. The group was also able to de-worm and administer tick dip to a total of 94 donkeys. A significant majority of the donkeys needed further veterinary attention for infections and injuries resulting from the old harnesses and a lack of basic care. (See below for the full list of what MARES achieved with the AKI grant.)

humane harnesses for donkeys
Donkeys fitted out with new properly fitting humane padded MARES' harnesses

humane donkey harnesses
Donkeys fitted with proper harnesses

MARES would like to continue the outreach in these villages on a monthly basis so that every donkey and their owner can benefit from the program, but are mindful of the huge task this presents to their small organization. So, they recently approached the Zimbabwe Prison Services with a proposal: MARES would supply raw materials and the inmates would manufacture the harnesses, after receiving instruction from MARES’ harness maker, Charles, on how to make the various metal components as well as the cutting of the conveyor belt. ZPS agreed to give this a try and last month, the harness-making training was scheduled to begin.

donkey education & harness making team
The MARES Team

In its three years’ existence, MARES has made 1500 harnesses, remodeled 300 carts and educated over 2000 donkey owners. They have struggled to find funding for their work despite the significant impact it has had on the donkeys’ welfare and the livelihoods of the owners. Claire hopes very much to count on the support of donors to AKI to continue the important work they are doing.


MARES achieved the following with the AKI grant:

Total number of carts fixed: 25

Total number of harnesses given: 50

Total number of donkeys de-wormed: 94

Donkeys treated for wounds: 53

Donkeys treated for eye infections: 24

Donkeys with sarcoids: 1

Donkeys given anti-inflammatory drugs: 3

Total number of neck reflectors given: 42

Total number of bell-straps given: 21

Donkeys given antibiotics: 1

Donkeys dipped with Supadip: 8

One donkey had a damaged eye and the veterinarian returned to do eye surgery on a later date.


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