If there's anyone who desperately needs a guardian angel, it's Pakistan's coal mine donkeys.
Pakistan's 550 mines employ thousands of donkeys. The animals work in extreme temperatures (both hot and cold), carry punishingly heavy loads, lack adequate shelter, and mothers are torn away from their babies prematurely in order to get right back to work. On top of all that, they're forced work though all manner of physical ailments, from dehydration, to lameness, to respiratory disease, to eye and hoof problems.
Fortunately, Pakistan's donkeys do have a guardian angel looking out for them. Brooke is an international charity that works tirelessly to relieve the suffering of working horses and donkeys around the world. A year ago, Brooke turned its attention to Pakistan's mining donkeys, and its Pakistan team has since been working nonstop to bring relief to these incredibly hardworking animals.
So far, Brooke has provided aid to donkeys in 10 of the region's coal mines. Eventually, the organization hopes to bring relief to the donkeys in all 550 mines. Dil Peeling, Brooke's director of animal welfare and sustainability was taken aback at the conditions of the coal mine donkeys.
"I thought I'd seen it all before I went there and saw the coal mines," he says.
A large part of what Brooke is doing in Pakistan is building relationships - and therefore, trust - with the local miners. That's the first step toward educating donkey owners and improving the lives of the animals.
"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," Peeling says.
"It does not take long for people to understand that it's not helpful to them or the animals to be in that condition...The challenge is in delivering lasting change."
So far, Brooke has helped make a handful of positive changes in the lives of the mining donkeys. They include:
-Educating miners about the importance of allowing the donkeys regular access to water, and introducing the use of portable water buckets.
-Transforming the entrances of abandoned mineshafts into shelters for the donkeys.
-Educating donkey owners about the importance of letting mothers and foals stay together until the foals are old enough to be weaned.
So far, Brooke's Pakistan team has helped establish a network of aid clinics - both mobile and static - covering 32 districts of the country. But there is still much to be done. Many thousands of donkeys are still suffering in the mines, and Brooke will not rest until that heartbreaking suffering is eradicated.
You can read more about Brooke's lifesaving work and how you can help Pakistan's donkeys here.
All photos by Freya Dowson/Brooke via Horse & Hound.