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  • Writer's pictureAnimal-Kind International

Bam Animal Clinics Trains On Humane Saddle-Making for Donkeys

Bam Animal Clinics is a recipient of a 2019 Animal-Kind International Africa-Based Animal Welfare Organization Grant. This is a report of Bam Animal Clinics AKI-funded project.

Author: Balondemu David, Bam Animal Clinics, Iganga, Uganda

Objective of the Grant

To train 20 donkey owners on how to make sisal sack saddles (humane saddles) for donkeys to protect them from ill health due to wounds caused by poor/no harnessing in Kono parish, Binyiny sub-county, Kween district, Eastern Uganda. The 20 donkey owners will then act as future trainers in their communities on how to make sisal sack saddles. Over 100 saddles will be made to immediately benefit over 100 donkeys in the community.

The following criteria is to be used to select trainees:

  1. Own at least 5 donkeys

  2. Rent their donkeys out

  3. Community leaders who own donkeys

  4. Donkey breeders

  5. People who use donkeys at food markets

Donkey owners who rent donkeys out will be required to train the renters about how to use the saddle and require that it be used; people who breed donkeys will be required to train people who buy the donkeys; community leaders are expected to continue training and promoting sisal sack saddles at community meetings; and people who own donkeys and work at food markets are well-placed to do continuous monitoring of the use of the saddles.


Donkeys are a major form of transportation of food, firewood, and water in Kween district, especially because it is a hilly area with a very poor road network. Quite often, women are the main users of donkeys to transport food and firewood to markets and other urban areas. Veterinary services are available mainly in the larger centers, but the rural areas are less well-serviced; with very limited or even no mobile clinics, veterinary services are considered too expensive to use.

Government policy is to post a vet surgeon per sub-county assisted by at least 2 to 3 paravets. We have 1403 sub-counties in Uganda and most are rural. That would need 1403 vets and double the number of paravets, yet there are only about 1014 vets and 1502 paravets in the country.

Most vets posted in these rural areas come back to partly or wholly work in towns or peri-urban areas for better pay and personal accommodation, thus leaving most rural areas in dire need of expert vet services. Quite often the paravets take-up the veterinary role as they are more willing to remain in rural areas. Thus, donkeys receive inadequate veterinary care and are exposed to unnecessary pain and suffering.

Bam Animal Clinics has found that donkeys have inadequate housing and feeding; worm infestations are common; and skin lesions from poor harnessing lead to other debilitating health issues, leaving them unproductive. Once they appear ill, donkeys are usually slaughtered or sold to butchers to meet a family's financial obligations.

tethered donkeys
Donkeys are tethered and left without shelter

Typically, donkeys are tethered outside their owners’ homes to restrain their movement until they are needed (picture above). Donkey owners have no shelters for their donkeys and often donkeys are left in the rain and sun, day in, day out. In the rainy season, donkeys are confined to prevent them grazing on crops. It is often the responsibility of children to tether donkeys at safe sites and provide other care for them (A humane education program in schools and communities would help improve the basic care that donkeys receive, since often it's the children of the family who are responsible for their care.)

Sisal Sack Saddle Training Course: Preparations

From 16 September to 16 October 2019, Bam Animal Clinics organized and undertook the training of 20 donkey owners on how to make sisal sack saddles for donkeys in Kween district. The easy to make and durable sisal sack saddle is very effective at cushioning the back of the donkey as well as the base of the tail from abrasions and wounds when donkeys are carrying heavy loads.

Mr Kwemoi Collins and Cheroto Jonah comprised Bam's advance team in Kween. They were in charge of organizing our participants for training, getting permissions from community leaders, and identifying training venues.

When preparations were final, the rest of the Bam team (Dr Balondemu David, Dr Kagoda Samuel, and Dr Muhamudu Kalange) set off for Kween District. Just after Kapchorwa, we stopped to observe a poorly made saddle placed on a donkey carrying a very heavy load. We advised the donkey owner about how to have his donkey carry the load more comfortably and efficiently, with less pain. We made improvements to the harness he was using (see pictures).

overloaded donkey
On their way to the training location, the Bam team saw a donkey with a too heavy load-they stopped to help.

overloaded donkey
An improved harness and more balanced load

We arrived at our destination, where our advance team had organized the participants to be trained and had set up meetings.

Our 1st activity upon arrival was to host a radio program. At the radio station, we shared a lot about donkey welfare, our training program, and our hope for our future plans in the area.

We met with the sub-county chief who was very happy to see our team and hear about our work. We were then led to the boardroom where the training participants had gathered. We made plans for the 1st day of training.

Sisal Sack Saddle Training Program

We kicked off the training program with a presentation of AKI programs worldwide, a description of Bam programs in Uganda, and the state of animal welfare in the country. We then launched the sisal saddle training, leading participants through illustrations of how the saddles are made and the advantages compared to the traditional saddles.

making humane harnesses for donnkeys
Demonstrating how a sisal sack saddle is made

humane harness making
In-class demonstration of sisal sack saddle production

humane donkey harness
Making a sisal sack saddle

We took the entire class of 23 participants (in addition to the 20 donkey owners, 3 sub-county staff were very interested and requested to attend) through a demonstration and made five samples. By the end of the day almost everyone had learnt how to make the saddles.

We then formed five groups amongst the participants. The following morning they convened at Kono parish center where we had organized practical hands on training with donkeys. Each participant was given a pair of sacks and all the requirements for making the sisal sack saddles. After this training, 80% of the participants presented perfect results in making sisal sack saddles. We repeated the exercise until the entire team mastered the process of making sisal sack saddles.

making humane harnesses for donkeys
Ready to try their hands at sisal sack saddle making!

Then we invited local donkey owners to bring donkeys to Kono parish headquarters to learn from their own trained representatives how the sisal saddles are made. There was a lot of excitement and everyone was seen yearning to learn the new method of making saddles. Also, this gave the newly trained trainers experience training others.

humane saddle making
Training local donkey owners to make sisal sack saddles

humane donkey harness making
Training donkey owners to make sisal sack saddles-hands-on training

This presented so many challenges as many donkeys had health conditions and some required immediate attention. One donkey was limping badly and upon observation we discovered she had a lacerated hoof with stones stuck in. We preferred debridement (cutting away abnormal tissue) as the damage was severe. We managed the wound very well and followed up the next day. To my chagrin, this donkey could not be spared from work despite the state of her limb! We advised the owner to keep the donkey quiet lest she lose the animal.

One group member suggested we wake up early morning on market day in Kapchorwa to see for ourselves how the donkeys were treated during transportation of goods to the market. Course participants observed that donkeys were undergoing a lot of suffering due to poor or no saddles, overloading and inappropriate loading. We even observed donkeys carrying sticks that were piercing their eyes.

The Bam team suggested a follow-up program to have 2 Bam vets continue to visit these areas during the project period to advise donkey owners how to provide better care for their animals. This is ongoing.


Bam Animal Clinics has finally realized its dream to have their donkey welfare issues answered through the grant support from Animal-Kind International.

  • Kono parish is now boasting over 100 donkeys already using well-cushioned and balanced saddles.

  • The level of response towards the new innovation was high from day one resulting in quick adoption of humane saddles.

  • Bam Animal Clinics successfully launched an animal welfare program and hopes to strengthen our grip in the region.

  • We have 20 trained donkey owners who agree to train others and promote sisal sack saddles.

  • We have a cadre of trainees who will monitor the use of sisal sack saddles among donkey owners.

  • Animal owners in this region can now test a more holistic approach to the welfare of their animals through Bam Animal Clinics supported by Animal-Kind International.

  • We expect gradual attitude change from negativity to positive attitudes towards animals, particularly donkeys.

  • We received such a positive reception, we will soon be returning to this area to continue helping and monitoring donkeys and donkey owners to treat their donkeys more humanely.

We really need this project to expand as it’s the only one on the Ugandan side as most donkey projects are on the Kenyan side.

Bam Animal Clinics highly thanks our partners, Animal-Kind International, for their support of our project. We reiterate our commitment to continue working together to ensure full transformation of the donkey welfare in the region.

Long live AKI.

trained in donkey care
A successful training-participants leave the class much smarter about good donkey care!

[The meaning of Bam Animal Clinics: Bam came from ‘Bamu’ meaning United in our local language but because during registration we found someone else had registered the same name we cut off the ‘U’. We hold donkey and spay/neuter clinics -therefore, Bam Animal Clinics.]

humane harness course
David Balondemu, founder & director of Bam Animal Clinics with some of the course participants


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