In many countries, donkeys are a vital cog in the wheel of industry. In urban areas, they are mainly used in construction, transport of goods and refuse collection.
Donkeys work long, hard days in brick kilns, mines, quarries and building sites, which can mean suffering and deprivation for donkeys and people alike.
In rural areas, they are often used in farming and for transporting goods to market. Working donkeys are often the most important productive asset for some of the poorest people in society. They improve agricultural productivity and access to market; evidence across several continents shows a consistent pattern of economic benefits gained from working animals.
Donkeys contribute directly by enabling their owners to participate in work, but also bringing further income when rented to others, thus indirectly boosting economic capacity in a region.
In India, a study of the construction industry showed 80% of income was generated by working donkeys. They work in the brick kilns that fuel the country’s building boom, which has seen thousands of high-rise blocks shooting up around Delhi and Mumbai. Almost every one of the millions of bricks involved in their construction has been transported by donkey or mule.
Workforces of donkeys and their owners take the raw, unfired bricks to the kiln. They work together to build a quadrant of bricks around the central chimney of the kiln, stacking around a hundred thousand bricks in a precise pattern.
Once the bricks have cooled, donkeys take them to another area where they’re stacked in huge walls ready for buyers.
The donkeys have hard lives and our partners around the world are working extremely hard to improve conditions for them by training local service providers such as farriers and harness makers, providing veterinary treatments for the animals and educating brick kiln owners and workers.
Building India on the backs of donkeys
Gurgaon, just outside Delhi, is experiencing a similar construction boom, fuelled by a new metro link to the capital. Not only are donkeys involved in the manufacture of bricks at the kilns, but they also work in lieu of cranes on site.
They carry bricks, sand and crushed stone for mortar, walking up as many as 12 flights of stairs. They carry 25 bricks at a time, each weighing 2.5kg. Unlike cranes, donkeys are able to deliver bricks and mortar more directly to the bricklayers.
Donkey Sanctuary India Education Officer Binal conducts welfare assessments at the building sites. As well as examining the donkeys, she also has to understand the lives of the donkey owners so that she is able to offer realistic support and advice. To do this, she visits the owners in their own homes.
The workers and their donkeys live on the building site and move on to another building site when the work is over. Tracking and maintaining ties with itinerant donkey owners is one of the major challenges for Donkey Sanctuary India.
Welfare is key
The productivity and efficiency of working animals is dependent on their welfare: where animals are poorly fed, overworked or suffer illness and disease, they cannot achieve their productive potential.
Simple interventions can empower owners to keep their working animals healthy and ensure their continued productive benefit. Attention to donkey welfare in development policy, improved education in animal care and handling, access to basic veterinary care and sufficient feed and nutrition can significantly increase productivity and longevity.