Emergency aid a lifesaver for Nepal’s equines and their owners

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An owner with his mule away from work in Nepal's brick kiln industry.
An owner with his mule away from work in Nepal’s brick kiln industry. © Animal Nepal

Urgent food and relief supplies have been delivered for labourers in the brick kilns of Nepal and their working donkeys and mules who were left stranded following the country’s Covid-19 lockdown.

As Covid-19 took hold in March 2020, many residents and workers in the country were left with no time to prepare, as the Nepalese government locked down the country at short notice. All non-essential services and industries were ordered to close, including the country’s brick kilns, a large number of which are located on the peripheries of the Kathmandu Valley and Dhading in central Nepal.

The closure of the brick kilns left some of the poorest and most vulnerable donkeys, mules and the communities that depend on them, without the means to feed or look after themselves.

That’s when international animal welfare charity The Donkey Sanctuary joined forces with Animal Nepal to help by providing emergency packages. They were granted government permission to transport and distribute urgent relief supplies to the kilns. Emergency relief packages containing 25 days’ worth of equine feed, rice, lentil and basic sanitary items for owner households were distributed to 167 families and 901 donkeys and mules within the Lalitpur, Dhading and Banke districts.

Pramada Shah, Founder and President of Animal Nepal and one of the trustees of The Donkey Sanctuary, said the lockdown was announced at the beginning of the brick kiln season. “As the Covid-19 strain is asymptomatic, the lockdown was imposed immediately, meaning that within 48 hours, the kilns were forced to close and none of the workers could get home.

“We are very grateful that The Donkey Sanctuary was there to help us mitigate the impact of the lockdown, which could have had a devastating outcome for many of the brick kiln workers who were stranded because of it.”

Following the delivery of urgent supplies, The Donkey Sanctuary and Animal Nepal worked on transporting the working donkeys and mules from the kilns to Nepalgunj to make sure they were not stranded in brick kilns with little access to food and essential provisions.

Mules and donkeys being loaded up with bricks at a brick kiln in Nepal.
Mules and donkeys being loaded up at a brick kiln in Nepal. © The Donkey Sanctuary

Equines are usually transported back to Nepalgunj, where their owners are based, at the end of the six-month brick kiln season in May or June, before the monsoon rains arrive. Here they are left to roam until the season commences later in the year.

As lockdown began to ease, Animal Nepal’s Equine Outreach Programme team was able to travel to the city of Nepalgunj, where they carried out medical checks on donkeys and mules on a one-to-one basis with their owners.

A ground-breaking deal was also struck with the Nepalgunj sub-metropolitan city to provide fresh grazing pasture for brick kiln donkeys and mules during the brick kiln off season. Securing designated grazing lands will help prevent injuries, road traffic accidents and human-equine conflict caused by the animals roaming the streets.

Mules and donkeys carrying their loads from a brick kiln in Nepal. © The Donkey Sanctuary

The collaboration between Animal Nepal and The Donkey Sanctuary also led to the construction of new shelters, offering working equines a safe, dry place to rest.

Since the intervention in 2020 Nepal has been subject to a second, more devastating, wave of Covid-19 and The Donkey Sanctuary continues to support the brick kiln communities through its partnership with Animal Nepal.

Donkeys and mules are essential to the livelihoods of some of the world’s poorest communities. More than 200,000 workers, supported by 2200 working equids, work seasonally in Nepal’s brick industry every year.

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