Ethiopia's stone carrying donkeys

Construction is becoming big business in Ethiopia, especially in the country’s growing cities like Hossana.

Newly-built apartments, government buildings and shopping centres are increasingly common in Ethiopia. Many are built using local stone brought in by donkeys from a quarry in Ajjo village around 4km away.

For years, life for many of these stone-carrying animals was hard. They were often over-loaded, underfed and under-watered. If they became sick or wounded they were left to fend for themselves. No surprise then, that their work-life expectancy could be just two years. But without their donkeys, owners cannot make the 40-60 birr (US$2-$4) a day per animal needed to feed their families.

Towards better wound management and feeding

Having understood the significance of donkeys to families and the poor welfare of many animals, the Brooke started to provide training in wound management and feeding to owners of around 1,000 working equines in and around Hossana.

Community Development Officer, Mulugeta Mekonne

Aklilu Menberu is just one person who has benefitted from this approach. His customers include contractors, house builders and cemetery stone masons. He has four donkeys: Bulla, Tsyem, Merkeb and a new one - not yet named since it has only recently joined the group. Aklilu earns about 60-100 birr (US$4-$6) a day, enough to support his family of eight.

Before the Brooke, we used to load six to seven times a day, 3-5 km for each round, approximately 18-30km travelling per day, carrying 50-60kg of stone. There was no tradition of feeding or watering them during the day, they were just put out on overgrazed pasture at dusk, where they were exposed to hyena bites.

Aklilu Menberu

Changed behaviour

But these are all history now. We have learned how to treat wounds with water, salt and Vaseline which are available locally. We also use saddles that help prevent wounds and feed the donkeys properly with wheat bran treated with edible oil.

Stone-carrying donkeys in Soro, Ethiopia

Aklilu said they had learned to cultivate different forage seeds just for donkeys and understood the symptoms for common ailments.

“Now we know the symptoms before they get sick, we treat them well and give them the rest they need,” he said.

“As I have four donkeys, I can give the working donkey a rest and use the others. Previously, I have never used a working donkey for more than a year. But now, I have my donkeys for more than three to four years.”