Animal Nepal rescued these donkeys from the capital's streets, where they were abandoned by Lalitpur brick kiln owners. Last year, the animal welfare organisation started a donkey outreach program in the kilns, where 500-800 overworked and underfed donkeys are employed. They have half the life expectancy of healthy donkeys. Most have open wounds since they don't have adequate harnessing and are invariably overloaded. Shockingly, pregnant donkeys are worked until the day of delivery and given only a few days to recuperate. Some, like Naina (above) become blind after dust particles infect their eyes.
Kiln owners have used donkeys to carry loads for the past four years. They lease them from contractors in Nepalganj, where they are returned when the brick season ends in May. There they are either sold into equally dangerous professions like hauling loads on mountain trails, or abandoned until the next brick season starts.
In June 2009 Animal Nepal investigated the equine bajar in Nepalganj and discovered the harrowing conditions in which the donkeys live. They scavenge for food in garbage dumps, give birth at busy intersections, and are treated despicably by a community that has come to regard them as pests.
As part of their outreach program, Animal Nepal has conducted a general survey of donkeys in Lalitpur's kilns and organised regular donkey clinics and public awareness campaigns. They have also begun work on a donkey sanctuary in Godavari, funded by the Brigitte Bardot Foundation.
Most importantly, they want to work directly with kiln owners. "The main problem is a lack of awareness. There are so many small things that can be done," says Lucia de Vries of Animal Nepal. These include strapping them with rudimentary harnesses to prevent sores amd giving them enough water. Shah and De Vries hope kiln owners will agree to abide by a code of conduct.
So far the response has been positive. When alerted to the needs of their animal workers, kiln owners enthusiastically took up their cause. They agreed that healthier and sturdier donkeys generate more value.
Animal Nepal has also encouraged concerned people to adopt donkeys, which are fairly easy and inexpensive to manage (see box). So far six have been adopted.
The knottier problem lies ahead. The government has yet to pass the Animal Welfare Act to protect animal rights, existing documentation is difficult to track down, and it is unclear if the act protects 'Working Animals' like donkeys and mules.
"We are a hundred years behind the rest of the world when it comes to animal rights, but enough is enough," says a determined Shah.
What will happen to Naina and her friends in Chobhar? They will be moved to the Godavari sanctuary once that's completed, but some won't be put up for adoption because they're handicapped and have gone through too much. There, treatment will continue until they die, in Shah's words, "peacefully". In the lush sanctuary, that end will be far happier than the tortured lives they led in the brick kilns of Lalitpur.
Wendy and Robin Marston first saw their donkey Flora in May outside a Bungamati kiln. She was badly bruised and emaciated and had crooked hips from the heavy loads she carried. The Marstons duly adopted her with the help of Animal Nepal.
A month after Flora made the Marston's garden her home, they discovered she had a lump in her stomach. They were relieved to find she was only pregnant, but the vet said the baby was awkwardly positioned in the womb and would probably kill Flora if it weren't removed immediately."When we pulled her out we expected the newborn to be dead,
but were surprised when she shook her head," recalls daughter Allison Marston. They named the foal Pooja Bhatt, since the vet insisted she be named after a Bollywood heroine following her miraculous survival.
Pooja and Flora get along well with the Marstons' four dogs. They eat vegetable and fruit peelings and a mix of corn and rice flour easily acquired in the city. They're taken out for daily walks, too.
The neighbours, far from being annoyed, are enthralled and the two have become minor celebrities.
"Friends are over all the time to play with them, especially the little one," says Allison.
If you're interested in adopting a donkey, go to
http://animalnepal.org/adoptadonkey.html or call 9841-334537.