An equine charity has been working to relieve the suffering of donkeys working in coal mines in Pakistan.
The animals carry loads of up to 100kg, far in excess of the weight a donkey can comfortably take for up to 10 hours a day.
Brooke has been helping the animals and their owners for a year, offering advice on how to improve their health.
To date, the charity has assisted equines in 10 coal mines in the country. Its ultimate goal is to “use the lessons learned so far to increase its reach”. Eventually, it hopes to target all animals in the region’s 550 mines.
“I thought I’d seen it all before I went there and saw the coal mines,” said Dil Peeling, Brooke’s director of animal welfare and sustainability.
“More than half of the donkeys are extremely thin, they have respiratory diseases and eye and hoof problems on top of being exhausted and dehydrated.
“80% are lame and carry astonishingly heavy loads, between 80-100kg — far beyond the capacity of the strongest of donkeys.”
Around 20% of the donkeys have slit nostrils, a practice which locals believe helps the animals breathe.
They work in very hot conditions in the summer and temperatures plummet to below 0c in the winter.
“The heat will be extreme this time of year, the donkeys come out of a hot environment into even greater heat,” said Mr Peeling.
“I saw one donkey who had come out of the mine still puffing after 15 minutes.”
After assessing the needs of the donkeys, Brooke has been working with the locals to help them improve the condition of their animals.
The charity has a specialised team working in the country.
“We have been building trust that has allowed us to work with the miners and find a way forward in a very difficult environment. It does not take long for people to understand that it’s not helpful to them or the animals to be in that condition,” said Mr Peeling. “The challenge is in delivering lasting change”
As well as using portable water buckets made from tyres, the Brooke has done much to raise awareness of the need to provide water on a regular basis, according to Mr Peeling.
The locals are now using the entrance of abandoned and disused mineshafts as a shelter for the donkeys, who were previously left outside in all weathers.
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The charity is also working with owners to make sure that donkey mothers have time with their offspring.
A Brooke photographer recently came across a donkey foal (pictured below) on his own and asked the team why he was left there. They said it was because the foal, Choto, was waiting for his mother, who was working in the mine.
Choto follows his dam with the pack of donkeys into the entrance of the coal mine, but is afraid of going inside because of the darkness and downhill slope.
If any packs of donkeys come out of the mine during the day, he is always there in the search of his mother.
“A lot still haunts me now and there is still a lot to do, but we’ve been encouraged by the response we’ve had,” added Mr Peeling.
“It was quite uplifting to see the progress that has been made.”
“The team in Pakistan are absolutely driven to breaking these problems.”
Although they have only recently started working in the mines, Brooke’s Pakistan team recently celebrated 25 years of operation.
To date, the team has provided 2,550,000 million treatments to working equines and established a network of mobile and static clinics providing support across 32 districts of the country.