Things are changing in Africa. After years of banging on the door, it's beginning to open, and animals all across Africa are beginning to see some great benefits.
Spending two days stuck in a conference room in Central Nairobi may not sound very exciting, but working alongside the United Nations at the Africa Animal Welfare Conference, the result is that the challenge of poor animal welfare is now being recognised. With representation from the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the African Union (AU-IBAR) and the UN Environment group, under the guidance of the African Network for Animal Welfare, we discussed and debated issues around wildlife, intensive farming, education and research, working dogs and equids, and the environment.
Did you know, bees are being used to keep elephants from destroying community homesteads? In the past, damage to crops has resulted in retaliation from people, causing serious injuries to the elephants in attempts to keep them away. But now, due to the great work of the NGO Save the Elephants, the destructive power of these gigantic animals is being contained by the buzzing of bees in hives, hung along a simple fence line. Elephants are no longer getting injured, crops are not getting damaged and poor communities are earning an income from the honey they produce, it's a win win win!
There is now a much better understanding around the importance of working with communities to protect the welfare of animals, and I have no doubt that the skills and experience of Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) are helping to drive this change, and it is well recognised by international institutions. There was great encouragement for NGOs to strengthen their engagement with environmental matters to inform future decision making. Whether it's pollution control, rubbish management, disaster management or building resilience, more input was being sought at every level.
An emerging issue, growing in momentum, is the slaughter of donkeys for their hide, providing a product for the Chinese market which is in extremely high demand, and believed to preserve youth and improve energy levels. Having significantly reduced the population of donkeys in China, Africa is now a target market for sourcing of these animals, causing devastation to communities through donkey theft and even putting the donkey at risk from extinction in some countries over the next few years. It's hard to imagine the humble donkey becoming as rare as an Asian Elephant or a Black Rhino, but it's a reality we could face if action is not taken.
Thank goodness for NGOs - with a presence on the ground in many African countries, Brooke, Donkey Sanctuary and others are sharing knowledge and insight, and seeking feedback from their partner organisations to provide a compelling case for these international institutions to take action. I was honoured to be moderating a panel discussion considering this important issue, enabling the NGOs to share their experiences, challenges and outline their future plans.
Riding the wave of increased awareness about animal welfare issues across Africa, formally recognised with development of the first ever Pan-African Animal Welfare Strategy led by the Africa Union, these NGOs are now pushing forward on an open door. They are working with others to develop strategies to investigate the trade, understand the impacts, raise awareness of the issues and take steps to protect communities. As fast as slaughter houses are being closed, others are licensed, and sometimes it feels like an upward battle against a very lucrative trade, but we won't stop until we win. Something is seriously wrong when people in Africa are losing their livelihoods, often the donkey is their only source of income, to supply a market thousands of miles away.
In a conference room of the United Nations last week, some exciting debates took place - the passion people have to improve animal welfare across Africa is building momentum and the importance of good animal welfare is being recognised. What needs to happen now is for us to move forward with the solutions. We have made huge strides to get to this stage where the concept of one health, the inter-dependency between human and animal welfare, is recognised, but it's time to get out of the conference room and into the field. Working together, we will make this world a better place for the animals and for the people too.
Images © Brooke / Freya Dowson www.thebrooke.org