A better tomorrow for working animals

The last year has seen fantastic growth in SPANA’s work, expanding our operations into new parts of the world. For example, having worked on a range of projects in Tanzania since 2013, we are now establishing a permanent presence there, while our operations in Ethiopia are growing rapidly. I was thrilled to open a brand new centre in Boghé, Mauritania, in October last year, and we’re planning on expanding our operations in Mali. We also had new projects starting all the time – for instance, in Jakarta, Indonesia, where we’re running a project to treat working horses.

Thanks to your support, over the past year we’ve treated 81,988 more animals, trained 398 more vet students and professionals, and reached 2,423 more working animal owners with our advice and training than we did in 2018. Going into the new decade, we’re doing more work in more places than ever before – and making more of a difference to the lives of working animals.

But spreading out geographically isn’t enough to ensure that working animals across the world get treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. In some of our centres, around 70 per cent of all the conditions and injuries we see are preventable. That’s why it’s vital that as well as providing free veterinary care, we educate and train owners and communities on how to properly care for their animals. If we can prevent working animals becoming ill or injured, not only will it allow us to spend more time treating those that need it, but we’ll also be creating lasting change – and ensuring that no working animals suffer unnecessarily.

Making these kinds of changes requires the involvement of local people – whether they’re animal owners, veterinary professionals or children. By training local vets, we give them knowledge that they can then pass on to their successors, and their successors after them. By teaching children about animal welfare, we’re creating a whole generation of adults who will come to see animals differently. And by providing community training to the owners of working animals, we’re ensuring that good practice is followed and avoidable conditions are kept to a minimum.

Making this a reality also means handing over real power and ownership to local people. I saw a great example of this when I was in Simanjiro, Tanzania, in July last year. There they have set up a community champions scheme, where local people are given the training they need to look out for and stand up for the welfare of working animals. In Simanjiro, a group of women have become community donkey champions. It was amazing to see them in action. If they see an animal being mistreated, not harnessed properly or carrying too much weight, they are quick to intervene and let the owner know in no uncertain terms.

Initiatives like this bode really well for the future. The free veterinary work we do is vital and will never stop – there will always be working animals that have accidents or get sick and need treatment. It also provides us with a unique perspective on training animal owners. Because we see animals every day, we know what common problems they are having, and this in turn informs what their owners need to know.

I remember being struck by how many donkeys in Mauritania had wounds above their tails from dragging carts that were too close to them. We built proper cart set-ups into our community training programme, and the next time I went back I was pleased to see how few donkeys were affected by this avoidable problem. Examples like this show how your support can help prevent working animals suffering in the first place, as well as treat those in need.

Over the coming decade, we hope to expand our work into many more areas and countries, but just as important is making sure our work has a lasting impact on generations of working animals to come.

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