• KarenAshville

AKI's Grant to Zambezi Working Donkey Project

Hesther Levy is the Director and in-country Operations Manager for Zambezi Working Donkey Project (ZWDP), an equine welfare organization based in Livingstone in the African nation of Zambia. Together with her team, comprising one full-time, three part-time assistants and two volunteers, Hesther just completed a project using a 2020 grant from AKI.

The project was aimed at improving the health and welfare of donkeys which provide essential transportation for water, firewood and food stuffs in this southern province of Zambia. In fact, ninety-three percent of farmers in this rural region rely on animal draft power. But despite their value to the family, little is known or done to ensure the donkeys’ welfare.


Hesther described to us how the donkeys are frequently harnessed to a cart made from an old car chassis, with a hardwood tree trunk for a shaft. This makes the cart very heavy even when it is empty of goods and people. The donkeys struggle to pull the cumbersome carts and are beaten to keep moving. Added to this, many farmers use ox yokes, far too heavy for a smaller animal like a donkey. This causes pain, severe injuries and even deformed necks and backs. Many of these injuries remain untreated as there is limited willingness or ability to access veterinary care as many owners are at or only just above subsistence farmer level.


These photos show the horrific wounds that improper harnesses and yokes have caused.


To add to their suffering, the animals often become dehydrated as they are left to stand outside in the sun for hours without food or water.


ZWDP’s aims include educating and empowering rural farming communities on how to train and care for their donkeys as well as providing training to make appropriate harnesses. In the course of this work, they also rescue and rehabilitate donkeys in need of short or long-term care. AKI’s 2020 grant funds were used to establish an outreach program which would further these aims.


The grant from AKI funded a training program for a total of 24 volunteers, chosen from the local villages around Livingstone, to participate in the program at ZWDP’s offices, where their harness making workshop is located. These volunteers, called Community Livestock Officers (CLOs), attended three full-day training sessions on donkey care with both classroom style lessons and practical hands-on training. CLOs were instructed on certain dos and don’ts such as not to use a pregnant donkey or a donkey under three years old for transportation and not to kick or pull the donkey’s ears.


Here a CLO in a training session is fashioning a better harness to replace the heavy ox yokes. And in the second picture, a donkey is fitted with a kinder, gentler harness.

In addition to the practical matters of improved harnessing, CLOs were also trained by ZWDP to carry out and explain basic equine health care. ZWDP demonstrated basic wound care, how to treat skin parasites and administer deworming medication, and proper foot/hoof care.


CLOs will continue supporting ZWDP in the field, back in their home villages. All of the CLO’s knowledge is now being passed on to the donkey owners to enable them to better care for their animals and to understand the importance of doing so. If the animals are properly looked after, their useful lives are prolonged and this benefits their owners.

Armed with their new knowledge and skills, the CLOs are now educating donkey owners in their communities about the need to replace the heavy wooden ox yokes with new harnesses that are made in ZWDP’s workshop. They demonstrate how to modify the carts so they can be used with these harnesses, removed excess weight by installing better shafts and thereby make them lighter and easier to pull. CLOs also give advice to farmers on proper loading of the carts.


Among the CLOs' tasks will be to mobilize people to bring their donkeys to ZWDP mobile clinics and coordinate the logistics for the clinic’s visit.


A basic reporting system was also established so that CLOs check in with their communities to monitor that best practices are being followed and that help is given where needed, including additional support from ZWDP for more complex cases.

Did the project accomplish its aims and further the work of ZWDP? The short answer is yes! Hesther was delighted with the results. Twenty-four CLOs were trained using the AKI funds and this enabled over 400 donkeys to receive treatment for various chronic and acute conditions and for over one hundred harnesses to be provided, replaced or repaired.


The newly trained CLOs are having a real impact on ZWDP’s ability to improve the welfare of working donkeys, Hesther reflected. The CLOs give ZWDP a voice as well as eyes and ears in the communities and it has become so much easier to communicate and coordinate activities. Most importantly though, Hesther reported that the information was very well received by local donkey owners and the level of interest and willingness to learn exceeded their expectations. Nevertheless, as Hesther adds in a realistic conclusion, this is only the beginning and there are countless donkeys in dire need of help.