For me, there are two major points to make about this video. The first is that donkeys are tremendously undervalued by people. It’s almost as if people want to devalue them so that they can drive them to the very limits of their abilities and beyond sometimes. They are used, abused and exploited as a working animal. I hate to see the undervaluation of an animal. This is speciesism at an extreme in this instance. People value the tiger over the donkey but in God’s eyes they are equal. And I’m not religious. In all fairness they should be equal because all sentient beings are equal. That is the only way to relate to animals.
The second point is that this video has been seen 58 times after being two weeks on the Internet, on YouTube. That is an awfully low viewing rate which reinforces what I say in the first paragraph. People don’t care about the lives of donkeys. The video is indeed harrowing. It shows donkeys in 40°C heat in places such as Mali, India and Morocco on huge piles of plastic waste scavenging for food.
They are brought to these places as working animals, transporting plastic waste to rubbish dumps and I would hazard a guess they transport some of the plastic waste away from the dumps because it’s got a resale value.
But the report is that it is becoming harder for donkey owners and the very poor workers who work these plastic mountains to be proper caregivers to their working animal. They don’t feed them adequately and therefore they scavenge on these dumps, ingest some plastic or other indigestible objects leading to a severe health problem such as poisoning, colic and internal blockages. These are life-threatening conditions.
Research has been carried out by the animal charity Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad (SPANA). They reveal that 67% of people in Britain don’t realise that working animals such as donkeys face life-threatening health issues due to plastic pollution.
The chief executive of SPANA, Linda Edwards, wants to raise awareness of the problem of plastic pollution. She used International Working Animal Day (June 15) to do this and I believe this video is part of that campaign.
Working animals have a critical role supporting families in vulnerable communities, but our research shows there is very little awareness about the deadly impact public waste has on these animals. We are making a life-saving difference to working animals under severe threat from plastic pollution, by providing veterinary treatment and supporting owners with information and guidance on the dangers of plastic waste to the animals.
The poll that they conducted also indicated that more than three quarters of the respondents would like society to move towards a zero plastic future to prevent harm to working animals. And, common sense dictates, to also prevent harm to people by protecting the oceans where plastic is ingested by marine wildlife and then eaten by people.
Almost 80% of the respondents said that they felt motivated to reduce how much plastic waste they generate in an effort to help alleviate the plight of working animals.
In 2019, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development reported that 353 million tons of plastic waste was generated worldwide. 9% of this waste was recycled. Plastic pollution has doubled between 2000-2019.
In an interesting comparison, the report that the UK produces just under 0.5 kg of mismanaged plastic waste per person while Zimbabwe generates 36 kg per person. Tanzania produces 30 kg per person and Tunisia 25 kg per person in comparison. It is the underdeveloped countries where plastic pollution is the worst almost certainly because of a lack of education and systems and facilities in place to reduce it.
That is why SPANA’s work is so important; offering a lifeline to working animals in desperate need in transforming their welfare. We are providing training in animal care in owners and bringing about long-term, lasting change through our animal welfare classes for children. Plastic pollution is one of the many environmental threats facing working animals, alongside climate change, drought, cyclones and flooding. However, the deadly impact that these issues have on working animals is often overlooked. Working animals can no longer be ignored and it is critical that they receive the recognition and urgent help they need.