‘A donkey is not a machine’

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When the Animal Nepal team recently reached Kantipur Brick Factory and found that sick ‘brick donkeys’ were kept together with healthy ones, they immediately rolled up their sleeves. Together with the equine owners, they build an isolation unit.  The team were able to treat over 16 equines suffering from saddle wounds, hoof problems, dehydration, skin problems and/or undernourishment. More

Quarantine Chief visits brick factory

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‘This is awful.” That was the reaction of Dr. Bodh Prasad Parajuli, Chief of Central Animal Quarantine Office, when he saw the conditions of working equines in brick factories  on April 29, 2013. The government chief visited Santaneshwor Brick Factory, among Lalitpur’s worst fourteen brick factories employing equines.

Dr Parajuli warned the equine owners that equine abuse cannot be accepted by his Department. He also realized the owners do not possess the required health cards.

Animal Nepal has urged government authorities such as Department of Livestock Services, Animal Health and Quarantine to address the issue of equine abuse in brick factories.

Dr Parajuli agreed to promote detailed monitoring in quarantine check posts and is to activate the Veterinary Council of Nepal and Nepal Veterinary Association to stop the distribution of health certificates for unhealthy equines. It is agreed that a joint meeting with the various government agencies will be held to address the problems in an effective and lasting manner.

Animal Nepal requested Dr Parajuli to strictly follow existing regulations, especially when equines are imported from India, and to improve conditions during the transportation of equines from Kathmandu to Nepalgunj and vice versa.

Animal Nepal honours ‘clean and green’ brick producer

Kathmandu, January 27, 2011 – Animal Nepal today honoured Mr Indra Tuladhar from Bungamati Itha Udyog for producing ‘clean and green’ bricks using Chinese technology. The animal welfare organization urges other brick producers to follow the example and eliminate environmental pollution as well as the exploitation of working children and equines. “The industry has the technology and the resources to stop the production of ‘blood bricks’; all it needs is the right kind of motivation,” said Krishna Singh, programme manager at Animal Nepal.

Animal Nepal’s gesture is supported by Dutch Party for the Animals member Martin Schoenmakers. Together with Animal Nepal Volunteer Director Lucia de Vries he offered a certificate and gifts to the clean bricks producer.  

The Bungamati brick factory in 2019 introduced Chinese automated brick making machinery. Instead of being seasonal the factory now produces bricks all year round and no longer employs migrant workers, children and donkeys. The bricks are transported by electric carts. Although the process is not yet completely environmentally friendly, there is a great reduction in emissions. Bungamati Itha Udyog is one of the three factories in Nepal using this technology.

Enterpreneur Tuladhar was motivated to clean up his factory when learning about the new technology. He says the brick industry suffers from labour problems, animal abuse and environmental pollution. The contracted workers at the improved kiln earn a fixed salary and no longer face hazardous work conditions.

Animal Nepal since 2008 reaches out to around 500 equines (mostly donkeys) working in brick kilns in Kathmandu Valley. There is relentless pressure to over-work and overload animals. Life expectancy for these animals is short and most donkeys suffer from serious health conditions problems.

In order to help make buyers make the rights choices, a network of NGOs active in environmental protection, children’s rights and animal welfare, including Animal Nepal, have joined hands to promote a responsible brick-making industry. They are introducing a certification system that will provide brick factories with a red, orange or green label.

Animal Nepal urges the brick industry to clean up its act and stop the production of ‘blood bricks’. “Brick kilns are the number one polluters in the Valley and employ countless children and donkeys to do the dirty work. Both issues can be addressed by introducing new technologies such as Vertical Shaft Brick Kilns or automated machinery,” says Krishna Singh. 

Donkey in the back

Night was falling when I drove Animal Nepal’s rickety ambulance towards the Donkey Sanctuary. A man on a motorbike passed the car and looked inside. His face froze; he decreased his speed. Soon he drove along the ambulance, glancing inside.

The man was not eve teasing. He was looking at the patient in the back of the car, an adult white donkey, positioned rather uncomfortable in the tiny car. The donkey’s head partly stuck outside the window, her nostrils flaring. Once in a while she tried to reach me with her nose, as if to say, ‘please take me out of here.’

That morning Animal Nepal’s three vets, Sudeep, Surendra and Parisha, and myself drove to a remote brick factory in the Kathmandu Valley. The ambulance had trouble getting there; we had to cross streams, and navigate around boulders and bricks, apparently fallen off trucks. The kiln was located in a beautiful spot, on the shores of the Bagmati river, amidst fields covered in flowering bright yellow mustard, dotted with traditional mud houses. A scene from a tourist postcard.

However, when we parked the car inside the factory a very different picture emerged. Children dressed in rags, carrying younger siblings on their back, surrounded the ambulance. Their faces were covered in dust; some of the toddlers’ heads were shaven to prevent lice. There were no adults around; while the parents worked the children had to take of themselves and each other. None of the children had any toys. A boy wearing a dirty Nepali topi[1] pulled a wooden brick mold behind him through the dust.

We had to walk up a hill to find what we came for. The open air factory employs some fifty donkeys, mules and horses to carry unfired mud bricks from a hilltop down to the kiln where they are baked. Today we brought a first aid box and planned to teach the donkey owners (four in total) how to use the medicines.

The owners in this particular factory are cooperative, and often call us when a donkey is sick. Still, we were shocked by the conditions of the animals. They were overloaded and continuously beaten by wiry handlers, boys from poor families, as young as eleven.

The vets immediately started treating the animals. Apart from saddle wounds the donkeys and mules suffered from hoof problems and eye infections. One severely malnourished mule stood alone, too weak to move. “Minimum one week rest and mineral supplements twice a day,” adviced Sudeep, after providing the poor creature with a medicine to promote digestion. A mule suffering from laminitis, a very painful condition caused by inflammation of the hoof, was given two weeks rest.

“Please have a look at one of my new donkeys,” one owner requested, “she is blind and her back legs don’t work properly.” We walked over to the night shelter and found a pathetic looking donkey, lying on the path. The creature was dehydrated and malnourished, and seemed unable to walk. The vets became agitated. “Why did you not call us earlier? We won’t allow you to keep this donkey here in these conditions,” they told the owner.

A long debate started, in which the owners explained that someone took the donkey here from another kiln, and that, yes, he was agree to send the animal to our sanctuary. What’s more, he and his friend would personally carry her to the car.

That was how Shree Devi, as the donkey was named, ended up in the back of our ambulance.
Shree Devi at first was apprehensive. After the long, bumpy ride to Godavari, we had to literally pull her to her retirement home, supporting her back legs.

After her arrival the twelve other resident donkeys left the night shelter to sniff at Shree Devi. She easily passed the test. Then she enjoyed the first of many nourishing meals in her new home.

Animal Aid Abroad in 2010 supports Animal Nepal’s working donkey outreach programme and sanctuary for the second year. We support some 500 donkeys in ten brick kilns and hope to expand our programme to more brick factories later this year. Donkey and kiln owners claim that thanks to our work the conditions of donkeys have greatly improved. They say that the loads are smaller, that beating has decreased, and that the general health conditions of the animals are far better than before.

To some extent this is true – inputs such as regular de-worming and vaccinations, first aid boxes, improved harnesses, hoof cleaners, health camps and educational workshops have had a visible impact. Recently three new staff have been recruited to intensify our support services and emergency shelters are being constructed in key brick factories.
However, we still occasionally come across abused and injured donkeys such as Shree Devi. Next time when we visit a brick kiln we hope to leave empty handed…

Lucia de Vries
Volunteer Director Animal Nepal

Donkeys of different sorts

This week we officially launched our donkey clinics at the brick kilns in Lalitpur district. Dr Sudip Koirala, together with social workers Uma Limbu and Krishna Singh, coordinated a visit to Bungamati brick factory, which we will develop into a model brick kiln. Here over 500 workers live in makeshift sheds in an area as big as a large village. Most of them are Terai Dalits or come from other marginalised groups. They are the poorest of the poor: they don’t own land, often don’t have citizenship papers, are illiterate, and basically constitute the large chunk of forgotten people of Nepal.

Among them children, many children. There are babies who rummage through the unfired bricks. And there are children who look after their siblings and carry bricks as soon as they can walk. Our heart goes out to them. No chance to be educated, no opportunity to create a better life than that of their parents. Many are malnourished – the worst start a child can have in life.

Our heart also goes out to the working donkeys. At the Bungamati kiln there are 95 of them, plus a few dozen handlers, all kids from poor families in India or Terai. The handlers are far from home and work hard to bring home a few thousand rupees when they return home in May. One wonders who are worse off: the handlers or the donkeys, of whom 80% suffers from infections, injuries and/or malnutrition and dehydration. They are overloaded, beaten mercilessly and when injured left to fend for themselves.

Animal Nepal can no longer watch the suffering. Even though funding has not yet been secured we have launched an outreach programme for both brick kids and donkeys. Have a look at the documentary on http://www.animalnepal.org/adoptadonkey.html

All in all there are around 400 kids and 500 donkeys working their heart out in ten brick kilns in our district. We want the kids to be happy, healthy and educated. We want the donkeys to be healthy and well treated. Is this a dream that can’t come true? I don’t think so. Already, with the help of individual donations and the support of colleague organisations (SPCAN, KAT) and many volunteers we have provided basic health care to almost 500 donkeys. Some 50 children received a colourful t-shirt and will soon go to school. This week we have taken the next step to make our dream come true.

Your help us very much appreciated.