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The donkey's tale

DonkeysDonkeys in Kenya are often worked for long hours without food or water. The traditional harness is a yoke on the wind-pipe which causes sores and lesions. They are often overloaded and caned repeatedly, because their owners view them as having no feelings and there is very little awareness of animal welfare. They therefore tend to end up underfed and carrying injuries from their treatment.

In order to improve their lot, messages about the welfare and management of donkeys needed to reach those who own them, or use them, especially teenage donkey drivers. These are the Kenyan equivalent of “boy racers” – showing off to girls by driving their animals as fast as possible up mountain slopes. This often results in crashes and injury for the donkey. These young men have little or no education, and their main source of entertainment is the radio, which they regard as an authority and trendsetter.

So, the Kenyan Network for Draft Animal Technology (KENDAT) set up a pilot radio project funded by Brooke Hospital for Animals (BHA), the Society for Protection of Animals Abroad (SPANA) and DFID's Livestock Production Programme. The approach was to make it cool to treat your donkey well, by giving practical advice on treating the donkeys better in order to make them last longer.

Meru, a city on the eastern side of Mount Kenya, was the chosen target area. There was a two-pronged broadcasting approach donkey owners as well as their handlers. There were educational programmes, each covering a different topic. These ended with a question where a free T-shirt was offered for correct answers. And there was also a soap-style drama series, comprised of a number of one-off story lines each of which concentrated on a single area of donkey management.

Donkey drivers reacted well to the programmes and were particularly keen to take up the T-shirt offer. There is evidence that the popular FM radio stations used have had a significant effect on their behaviour. In addition, drivers now find themselves harangued by the teenage girls they seek to impress, which has also had a positive effect.

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These are the Kenyan equivalent of “boy racers” – showing off to girls by driving their animals as fast as possible up mountain slopes.