The Journey of the African Donkey...

Donkeys assembled for transportation to various slaughter houses in Nigeria

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 Zaria Community Equine Project


  • Team Leader: Philip W. Mshelia

  • Assistant Team Leader: Jocelyn Stedman

  • Equine Welfare Leaders: Adamu Marwan Basawa and Barbara P.  Zingg

  • Equine Health: Richard Edeh

  • Lab. Services: Idoko Sunday

  • Farrier: Suleiman Umar

  • Additional Team Members: Onoja Emmanuel Idoko. Emmanuel Shiawoya, Vungmo Nansel, Obua John Chioma, Derek, Hayatu Muhammad Balarabe



The Zaria Community Equine Project is a collaboration between Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Hope Interactive (Equine Welfare Group) and Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, New York through Cornell University’s Expanding Horizons service-learning program.   

This project was undertaken with several goals in mind. First,  to promote a greater love for horses and donkeys among community members in the Zaria. To develop a more humane attitude towards the treatment of the animals. Also to provide basic veterinary care free of charge to the community in order to demonstrate to the owners and caretakers of horses and donkeys in Zaria the importance and value of seeking out basic veterinary care for their animals. To provide instruction in simple safety precautions and skills needed for responsible and, safe care and, management of horses and donkeys with the hope of reducing injuries and increasing productivity of both animals and their handlers. Through our work with the community and their animals, our team will also collect information for research purposes which could be used in the future to better guide the veterinary services and education provided to the community as well as to advance the scientific knowledge of working equid health and welfare.  

Equine Outreach

Our team provided a variety of veterinary services to the horses and donkeys that were presented to our clinic. We treated and diagnose diseases such as thrush, pegion fever, squamous cell carcinoma, and equine piroplasmosis. Additionally, we treated wounds, vaccinate for tetanus, and dewormed horses that were presented. The farrier from Equestrian Academy at Fifth Chukker Polo and Country Club also accompanied our team to provide hoof care and to instruct owners and local farriers on the appropriate management of hooves and on proper trimming and shoeing techniques. Our team advice the owners of all the horses and donkeys about equine care, especially on proper feeding to prevent bran disease or other nutritional deficiencies, and appropriate uses of ethnoveterinary medicine.


Through our work in Zaria we were able to identify a number of health and welfare concerns in the horses and donkeys living in the city. We have provided a summary of some of the major issues here:

  • Poor body condition: many animals are very skinny, this causes weakness and increases susceptibility to disease

  • Ticks: brown dog ticks are very prevalent and can spread diseases such as piroplasmosis

  • Restraint: horses are kept tied for long periods of time often without shade or water which leads to dehydration, painful sunburns, and skin tumors; this also restricts natural movement potentially leading to lameness and behavioural issues

  • Hobbling: horses and donkeys are often hobbled so tightly that they cannot stand in a natural position leading to lameness and behavioural issues; additionally, in some cases, the hobbles rub the skin causing sores and irritation

  • Stabling: stalls are often too small preventing horses from safely lying down and moving around which can cause exhaustion and behavioral issues; many stables have dangerously low roofs that a horse could easily hit its head on causing severe or fatal injury; many stalls have loose nails or other sharp objects that could easily injure animals and could lead to infection or tetanus

  • Cleanliness: horses and donkeys are often kept near garbage piles or do not have their manure removed from nearby, this increases the risk of disease as well as the number of flies which cause irritation, decreased feed intake, behavioural issues and can spread disease

  • Feeding practices: some horses show signs of bran disease due to improper phosphorous and calcium balance in their feed; some horses are fed mostly grain-based diets with little forage which can lead to behavioural issues

  • Handling: poor handling is very common with owners often beating their animals for misbehavior and forcing them to perform certain tasks which leads to more injuries both of the horses and donkeys and their handlers; poor behavior by the animals due to factors mentioned above as well as lack of training leads to rough handling of these animals, making them fearful and more likely to perform undesirable behaviors

  • Lack of recognition of pain: owners and handlers of horses and donkeys do not seem to recognize signs of pain in their animals, leading to lack of treatment for injuries as well as rough handling of animals that misbehave due to pain

  • Hoof care: hooves are often overgrown or trimmed inappropriately leading to lameness and pain in these animals

  • Harnesses: the saddles used on horses often cause significant sores along their backs which can become infected and often lead to long-term back pain making riding very unpleasant for the horse and decreasing its ability to perform; the harnesses used on donkeys cause significant sores on their backs, hips and under their tails causing significant pain and decreasing the ability of these animals to do work

  • Poor wound care: many animals have open sores from harnesses, bites or diseases such as ulcerative lymphangitis, these wounds are often dirty or infected and are left untreated leading to severe pain which can decrease working ability and lead to behavioural issues

  • Lameness: horses and donkeys are often lame due to injury, poor hoof care, overwork, poor conformation, or other issues and they rarely receive treatment for this leading to pain, decreased working ability, and long-term irreversible lameness

  • Infectious disease: some animals have infectious diseases such as ulcerative lymphangitis and piroplasmosis which are often left untreated or treated inappropriately, these diseases can cause serious illness or death in these animals if not treated correctly

  • Intestinal parasites: most horses and donkeys are not regularly dewormed and therefore likely have high numbers of intestinal parasites which can cause weight loss, colic, and occasionally death of the animal

  • Lack of vaccination: very few horses or donkeys receive vaccinations for preventable diseases such as tetanus which causes paralysis and sometimes death in horses and donkeys



Despite the large number of health and welfare issues seen in Zaria, we were pleased to find that most horse and donkey owners seemed interested in providing proper veterinary care for their animals when given the opportunity and resources to do so, however, at the moment there is a significant need for quality veterinary care for these animals. This appears to be mostly due to a combination of lack of education about the importance of this care among owners, lack of accessible quality equine veterinary care in the area, and a lack of resources among owners to pay for both veterinary care and various items (such as quality feed and harnesses) that are necessary to maintain animal health and welfare. However, even if these issues are addressed it is likely that some owners would still not provide appropriate care for their animals due to a lack of interest in improving the health and welfare of their animals. Steps need to be taken to educate owners about the benefits of caring for their animals and to foster a greater love of horses and donkeys in the community.

Our team was concerned by some of the ethnoveterinary practices found to be carried out in the Zaria community. While there are some local animal health care providers who use appropriate and effective ethnoveterinary treatments, we found several practices to be detrimental to the horses and donkeys treated, including:

  • Acupuncture: knives are used to make cuts in the skin of animals to treat pain; this procedure is painful for the animal and results in wounds that are painful and can become infected

  • Bloodletting: a cut is made in a major vein in an animal to improve horses that are overweight or have other issues; this treatment has no known benefits and is very painful for the animal and can result in infection

  • Firing: a hot iron is drawn across the skin in specific locations to treat respiratory disease in donkeys; this procedure in extremely painful for the animal and has no known benefit

  • Inappropriate injections: untrained individuals inject animals to treat disease using inappropriate techniques and poor sanitation; this can lead to painful, long-term infections at the site of injection and increase the risk of tetanus in these animals

Despite these findings, we feel that there is a significant opportunity for improvement in the health and welfare of the horses and donkeys of Zaria City. We feel confident that through collaboration with various groups involved with the ownership and care of horses and donkeys in Zaria, and with the assistance of the Emir of Zazzau (traditional ruler), we will be able to make a significant improvement to the lives of these animals.

Recommendations for Future Action

Based on our observations during our work in Zaria, our team has come up with several recommendations for actions that could be taken by the Emirate (traditional Council) to improve the health and welfare of the horses and donkeys of Zaria. Demonstrating care for their animals will demonstrate that the community has the capacity for compassion and the ability to work towards positive changes. Our recommendations include:

  • Having a standard for horses to participate in cultural events and celebrations such as Durbars: People who wish to have their horses participating in these events must have horses that are sufficiently well fed and not lame, several certified veterinarians should be present and these events and should have the authority to require the removal of any horse from the event that does not meet these conditions

  • Supporting local farriers: A small amount of funding should be provided to current local farriers to allow them to buy proper equipment such as rasps and nippers and to allow them to acquire basic training in the use of these tools. This would improve the quality of hoof care in Zaria and allow farriers to work more effectively and earn more money. These farriers should be encouraged to take on apprentices and to pass on their knowledge to these students so that these improved standards can be maintained

  • Giving a statement of support for work to improve health and welfare in horses and donkeys: A statement from the Emir indicating that the Emirate is interested in the improving health and welfare of horses and donkeys in Zazzau and suggesting that improper treatment of these animals is not supported by the His Highness the Emir would be helpful in promoting a shift in behavior and attitudes towards horses and donkeys within the population. Pressuring religious and other community leaders to vocally support animal health and welfare, and to teach that valuing these animals is important and morally correct would also help the situation    

  • Providing a consistent, high quality source of veterinary care for horses and donkeys in Zaria: This could be through the provision of land and some funding to establish a small equine clinic in Zaria or through hosting and helping to fund twice yearly veterinary weeks where local equine veterinarians come to Zaria and provide basic health care to the horses and donkeys in Zaria. Assistance with finding a location and subsidizing care would allow these efforts to reach a greater number of horses and donkeys in the area

  • Creating a forum for discussion of welfare issues in horses and donkeys in Zaria: This would be a long-term project involving collaboration with local veterinarians, community leaders, and animal owners and users. Providing a location for regular educational events or workshops to increase the knowledge of specific animal-related groups in Zaria, such as farriers, harness makers, or horse owners, as well as assisting with the production and distribution of educational materials would make it easier for community-based groups to meet to discuss welfare issues in horses and donkeys and to devise solutions for these problems.

While we understand that the steps outlined here would require significant contributions from the Emirate and may seem overwhelming, our team feels that the implementation of even one or two of these ideas would be positive steps for the improvement of animal welfare in Zaria. The last two recommendations, in particular, would require long-term work and plan with contributions from a wide variety of community members and professionals and we recognize that it could take some time for these ideas to be implemented. However, our hope is simply to initiate the discussion and understanding of the health and welfare issues facing horses and donkeys in Zaria City and from there begin to drive changes for the better.

Our team is immensely grateful for all the assistance and support provided to us by His Royal Highness the Emir of Zazzau throughout our project. We hope that we can continue to work together to benefit the horses and donkeys of Zaria and the people who own and care for them. By continuing our collaboration we hope that we can make progress in the areas mentioned above and discover other resources that would enable these goals to become a reality. We believe that once these initial steps are taken and the community begins to see the benefits of providing proper care for their animals this work can become self-sustaining and will be able to continue to progress. Creating a place where animals are valued and treated with kindness can only improve the community and its status in Nigeria and the world.       


Lonely and soaked in the rain! Waiting for somebody to share in their sensibility...

Donkeys need a hug! Not a whip or stick...



Donkeys are symbol of sacrifice and hard work...

7th February 2017

Seasonal migration by Fulani herds men in Garin-Itace, Gujba LGA, Yobe state, North eastern Nigeria


Alternative routes for moving donkeys from Niger republic to Nigeria in Northeastern Nigeria


...even as people struggle for political change, animals create stability and sustenance, weaving us tightly into the fabric of life...

  Quote from UC Davis Gladys Valley Hall