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




As part of Cornell University's Expanding Horizons service-learning program, Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Hope Interactive (Equine Welfare Group) and Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, New York are partnering for the Zaria Community Equine Project.


The project was undertaken with several objectives in mind. We are first looking to promote interest in horses and donkeys in the Zaria community. Create a more humane attitude towards animals. Furthermore, providing free veterinary care for horses and donkeys in the community to show owners and keepers the importance of seeking basic veterinary care. Teaching simple safety precautions and skills for the safe and responsible handling and care of horses and donkeys to reduce injuries and increase productivity. As we work with the community and their animals, our team will gather information for research purposes. This will benefit future veterinary services and education for the community, as well as advance scientific knowledge of working horses.


Outreach to equines


We offer a variety of veterinary services to horses and donkeys at our clinic. Thrush, pegion fever, squamous cell carcinoma, and equine piroplasmosis were among the diseases we treated and diagnosed. In addition, we treated wounds, vaccinated for tetanus, and dewormed the horses. A 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 how to properly manage and trim the hooves. Our team advises owners of all horses and donkeys on equine care, especially on proper feeding to prevent bran disease or other nutritional deficiencies. In addition, our team recommends appropriate use of ethnoveterinary medicine.




In our work in Zaria, we were able to identify a number of health and welfare concerns among the horses and donkeys living there. Below is a summary of some of the major issues we identified:


Animals with poor body conditions are weak and more prone to illness and disease


The brown dog tick is very prevalent and can transmit diseases such as piroplasmosis


Keeping horses tied for long periods of time without shade or water can cause dehydration, painful sunburns, and skin tumors; this also restricts natural movement, which can lead to lameness and behavioral problems.


In many cases, horses and donkeys are hobbled so tightly that they cannot stand in a natural position, causing lameness and behavioural issues. Additionally, the hobbles can rub the skin, causing sores and irritation.


Stalls are usually too small, preventing horses from lying down and moving freely, resulting in exhaustion and behavioral problems; many stables have dangerously low roofs where horses could hit their heads, resulting in severe or fatal injuries; many stalls have loose nails or other sharp objects that could easily injure animals and lead to infection or tetanus;


Horses and donkeys are often kept near garbage piles or do not have their manure removed from nearby. This increases the risk of disease and the number of flies that can cause irritation, decreased feed intake, behavioural issues, and disease transmission.


Feeding practices: Some horses exhibit bran disease due to the imbalance of phosphorous and calcium in their feed; some horses are fed mostly grain-based diets with not enough forage, which can lead to behavioral issues.


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


Owners and handlers of horses and donkeys don't seem to recognize signs of pain in their animals. This leads to failure to treat injuries and rough handling of animals that misbehave due to pain


Hoof care: Hoofs are often overgrown or trimmed incorrectly, resulting in lameness and pain in these animals


Harnesses: The saddles used on horses can cause significant sores along their backs, which can lead to infection and cause long-term back pain, which makes riding very unpleasant for them and decreases their ability to perform; the harnesses used on donkeys can cause significant sores on their backs, hips, and under their tails, causing significant pain and affecting their ability to perform.


Poor wound care: Many animals suffer from wounds caused by harnesses, bites or diseases such as ulcerative lymphangitis that are dirty or infected, leading to severe pain and a decreased working ability.


Horses and donkeys are often lame from injury, poor hoof care, overwork, poor conformation, or other issues, and are rarely treated for this resulting in pain, reduced working ability, and long-term irreversible lameness.


Some animals have infectious diseases such as ulcerative lymphangitis and piroplasmosis which are often left untreated or improperly treated. If not treated correctly, these diseases can cause serious illness or death in these animals.


Intestinal parasites: Most horses and donkeys are not regularly dewormed, so they have high numbers of intestinal parasites, which can cause weight loss, colic, and even death.


Lack of vaccination: Few horses or donkeys receive vaccinations against preventable diseases like tetanus, which can cause paralysis and even death in horses and donkeys.






Although we saw a large number of health and welfare issues in Zaria, we were pleased to find that most horse and donkey owners were interested in providing proper veterinary care for their animals when given the opportunity. However, at the moment there is an acute need for quality veterinary care for these animals. There appears to be a combination of a lack of education about the importance of this type of care among owners, a lack of access to quality equine veterinary care in the area, and a lack of resources among owners for paying for veterinary care and other items (such as quality feed and harnesses) necessary to maintain animal health and welfare. In spite of these issues, it is likely that some owners will not provide adequate care for their animals. This is due to a lack of interest in improving their health and welfare. The community needs to be educated about the benefits of caring for their horses and donkeys, and a greater love for them needs to be fostered.


We were concerned by some of the ethnoveterinary practices found in the Zaria community. There are some local animal health care providers who use appropriate and effective ethnoveterinary treatments, but we found that several practices were harmful to the horses and donkeys treated, including:


Acupuncture: Knives are used to make small cuts in the skin of animals to alleviate pain; this procedure is painful for the animal and results in wounds that are painful and are prone to infection


Bloodletting: Making an incision in a major vein in an animal in order to treat overweight animals or animals with 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 used to treat respiratory diseases in donkeys; this procedure is extremely painful and has no known benefit for the animals


Inappropriate injections: Inappropriate techniques and poor sanitation can result in painful, long-term infections at the injection site, which increases the risk of tetanus in animals.


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


Recommendations for Future Action


Our team in Zaria has provided several recommendations to the Emirate (traditional council) for improving the health and welfare of the horses and donkeys in Zaria. By showing compassion for their animals, the community will show it has the ability to work towards positive change.


Here are some recommendations:


In order for horses to participate in cultural events and celebrations such as Durbars, they must be provided with sufficient nutrition. Several veterinarians should be present at these events, and they should have the authority to remove any horses who do not meet these requirements.


A small amount of funding should be provided to local farriers to allow them to purchase appropriate equipment such as rasps and nippers. This will enable them to gain basic training in how to use these tools. By doing this, the quality of hoof care in Zaria would improve, and farriers could work more efficiently and earn more money. In order to maintain these improved standards, these farriers should be encouraged to take on apprentices and pass on their knowledge to them


Towards improving health and welfare for horses and donkeys: A statement from the Emir indicating that the Emirate is interested in the improvement of health and welfare for horses and donkeys in Zazzau and suggesting that inappropriate treatment of these animals is not supported by His Highness would be helpful in promoting a shift in behavior and attitudes towards horses and donkeys. Pressuring religious and other community leaders to promote animal health and welfare, and teaching that valuing these animals is a virtue.


By providing a consistent, high quality source of veterinary care for horses and donkeys in Zaria: This could be achieved by establishing a small equine clinic in Zaria or by hosting and funding twice yearly veterinary weeks where local veterinarians come to Zaria to provide basic health care to the horses and donkeys. Increasing the number of horses and donkeys in the area could be achieved if assistance was made available with finding a location and subsidizing care


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


Although we realize that the steps outlined here would require a significant commitment from the Emirate and may seem overwhelming, our team feels that implementing even one or two of these ideas would have a positive effect on animal welfare in Zaria. Particularly the last two recommendations would require long-term work and a plan with input from a variety of community members and professionals, and we recognize that these will take some time to implement. Our goal is to begin the discussion and understanding of the health and welfare issues facing horses and donkeys in Zaria City. We will then begin to drive changes for the better.


We are extremely grateful to His Royal Highness the Emir of Zazzau for all of the assistance and support provided to us during this project. The horses and donkeys of Zaria and the people who own and care for them are in need of our continued cooperation. Our collaboration will enable us to make progress in the areas mentioned above and discover new resources that will allow these goals to become a reality. After these initial steps are taken and the community begins to realize the benefits of providing proper care for their animals, this work will be self-sustaining and able to continue. 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