Requesting land for a future donkey sanctuary
Dr. Ramesh Kumar from The Donkey Sanctuary India (DSI) spent one week with us and achieved many things during his sixth visit. We had several formal meetings with government agencies. We introduced Dr Ramesh to the ‘animal-loving’ Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP). After briefing him on the progress of the donkey projects, he said we should get land, about 10 acres, for a donkey sanctuary.
To our surprise the ASP rang the Minister for Sustainable Development & Wildlife immediately to get an appointment for. Unfortunately the Minister was about to fly out of the country so a meeting would be delayed until his return.
The ASP then contacted the Divisional Secretary (DS) about finding land and arranged for us to meet him. However, the DS said he could only allocate one or two acres for this purpose as land was scarce in the urban area. He said he would speak to the land officer and let us know the result.
Our next stop was to the office of the Government Agent (GA). He was supportive of a donkey sanctuary and said he didn’t have any issue in giving land for this purpose. He said the land would be first given to the Urban Council Mannar and Bridging Lanka would then work with the UC to establish the Donkey Sanctuary.
DAT building progress site visit with Dr. Ramesh
Dr. Ramesh visited the Donkey Assisted Therapy Centre construction site at Murunkan where Sr. Josephine, Director of MARDAP, gave an account of the progress. Dr. Ramesh thanked Sr. Josephine for sharing Nicholas (hers, and now our new employee) because he works hard and is an animal lover too.
During the site inspection, Dr. Ramesh made useful suggestions on how to improve the functioning of the centre when completed. These included removable donkey feeding trays, moving the door of the store room from the rear to the front and shade trees around the building starting immediately.
Thanking Donkey Sanctuary and Animal Aid Abroad
Sincere thanks to our generous supporters, The Donkey Sanctuary (UK and India) and Animal Aid Abroad.
Whenever we ask The Donkey Sanctuary for help, they open their hearts and willingly support us, not only financially but also with badly needed technical advice. We provided short notice to Mr. Stephen Blakeway and Mr. Vinod Khurana from The Donkey Sanctuary, asking to release for Dr. Ramesh to visit us. We needed assistance with negotiating formal agreements with government agencies and up-skilling of our staff, along with advice on the set-up and equipping of the three planned donkey facilities. Although facing a busy schedule in India, The Donkey Sanctuary approved Dr. Ramesh’s leave of absence!
We also cannot forget the long-term commitment and faithfulness of Australia-based, Animal Aid Abroad. AAA was our first financial supporter, dedicated to improving the health and welfare of donkeys.
Capacity building for Mannar veterinarians
We arranged a meeting between Dr. Harshini, Mannar Town’s vet, and Dr. Ramesh to identify areas for donkey welfare. Dr. Harshini floated the idea of Dr. Ramesh undertaking training for all the Mannar veterinarians. After a resounding ‘yes’ from Dr. Ramesh, Dr. Harshini immediately contacted the Assistant Director of Animal Production & Health to get the necessary permissions.
Ten veterinarians came for the workshop - Dr. Harshini, Dr. Iromy, Dr. Kirubakaran, Dr. Priyadarshini, Dr. Fathima, Dr. Vindya, Dr. Gajenthini, Dr. Sujivi, Dr. Deepike and Dr. Manoj. The sessions focused on welfare assessment, donkey behaviour and visual approach, handling and restraint of donkeys, clinical examination, hoof care and basic furriery, giving intra-muscular and intra-venous injections, micro-chipping, donkey medicine (common drugs, dosage and ways of administration) and finally, euthanasia procedures. The workshop was a huge success.
Dr. Harshini continues her strong commitment to our donkey welfare programs. Currently she is helping us to negotiate with Police Services to find suitable land for a future donkey sanctuary and also comes regularly to treat our donkeys, whenever needed.
Negotiations with Ms. Visakha Tillekeratne to bring members of the Colombo Girl Guides to Mannar to support our donkey program, were successful and a trip was finally arranged.
We wondered what tasks to assign the Girl Guide volunteers. I came up with the idea to fence off some of the area in the shelter for growing grass. Other Bridging Lanka staff suggested that they construct the fence and ask the Guides to paint it.
Concrete pillars and timber were bought and BL staff, Nicholas, Karnan and I, together with Australian volunteer, Graham Burgdorf, constructed the fence.
Colombo Senior Girl Guides visit Mannar
Included in the 2016 strategic plan of the Colombo Girl Guides Association was the adoption of Mannar’s donkeys. Miss Dimanthi Gurawardana, the National Secretary, bought a group of eight Girl Guides to Mannar on an exposure visit to better understand and participate in the existing donkey programs.
The first day of the program started with a presentation about Bridging Lanka’s activities by Jeremy, followed by one about Mannar’s donkeys given by me. We then shared what we had in mind for the Guides to do.
What followed was a visit to our donkey shelter where the girls touched, groomed and fed the donkeys. Initially fearful, the girls relaxed and became overjoyed by the experience. Then it was down to work. They started weeding the fenced area so that grass for the donkeys could be grown there. The day ended with a visit to the beach.
On day two, after an orientation trip around Mannar, the girls started painting the fence. In the afternoon, we had a meeting in Santhipuram (a village where Bridging Lanka is building a children’s park). There the Guides met many local young people and both groups shared stories, song and dance. The visit ended with a community working bee.
To round up the Guides’ visit to Mannar we all danced and sang around a camp fire. We were certain the Girl Guides left us enthused and with a much clearer understanding of the need for our donkey programs in Mannar.
Many thanks to Visakha, Dimanthi and all the senior Girl Guides who made this trip both possible and enjoyable. Let’s hope it’s just the first of many connections between young people in the north and those from the south of the country.
One of our projects was to erect donkey signage at major incident sites in the urban areas of Mannar Town. We wanted to prevent injury to donkeys and pedestrians and avoid vehicular accidents. The project is getting closer to being realized. The signs will bring increased awareness of the importance of animal protection and the need for greater caution on the roads.
To implement this project we needed approvals from three different government agencies - Urban Council Mannar, Road Development Department and the Road Development Authority. Fortunately they all replied to our letters, giving us the necessary permissions to erect this sign boards.
This signage was designed by Mr. Iwan Isnin, Bridging Lanka volunteer from Perth, Australia. Thank you, Iwan.
Hoof care – first time ever!
This was the first time in their lives that our donkeys received hoof care! Dr. Ramesh trained both Bridging Lanka staff and Mannar’s Livestock Development Officers (LDO) to do so. The donkeys didn’t like it at all! It became very difficult to control our donkeys.
In two days we did seven donkeys amongst ourselves while Dr Ramesh did seven by himself. He taught us the proper way to hold their legs and clean the hoofs. It was interesting but very painful because, for us too, it was the first time we’d undertaking hoof care.
The LDOs were grateful for the experience of handling donkeys for the first time and delivering a hoof care service. Dr. Ramesh even taught them how to administer inter-muscular injections. In the end the donkeys appreciated the work and trotted away happily.
Students parachute into DAT land
Again with the expert contribution of Dr. Ramesh we ran another Donkey Assisted Therapy session for the MARDAP ‘differently abled’ kids. Nineteen RMIT University students and their lecturer from Melbourne, Australia, were enchanted with this donkey experience. The children were so happy to be with RMIT students and also, as usual, with the donkeys.
For the RMIT students, the week-long fieldwork encounter in Mannar was part of their formal university studies in various disciplines – Environment and Society, International Development, Global Theory, Natural Resource Management, Economics and Urban Planning. Their input will help us in the future to develop our donkey programs.
These educational tours are also part of Bridging Lanka’s approach to develop a sustainability strategy for our programs, charging students a fee to access such educational experiences in a development context.
Donkeys embrace globalisation
A number of tourists from around the globe are now coming to Mannar and visiting our donkeys. Uniting Journeys Travel brought a group of Sri Lankan diaspora members residing in Australia on a Journey of Reconciliation. They were from Tamil, Muslim, Burgher and Sinhalese backgrounds. During a two week period, they shared aspects of their past lives in Sri Lanka in deep and significant ways.
The encounter with the donkeys further pulled on their heart-strings and was a delightful way to wind up their time in Mannar.