The Donkey: Egypt’s Green Machine

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Possibly the “greenest” animal on Earth, the humble donkey has enjoyed a very long residence in Egypt, where it is believed that donkeys were first domesticated around 3,000 BCE. A five thousand year history of supporting humans in their daily endeavors is strong testimony to their sustainability, as well as the sustainability practices of Egyptians.

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Donkeys figure frequently in Jewish, Christian and Islamic Scriptures. Perhaps the more famous scriptural account of a donkey in Egypt is the flight of Mary holding the baby Jesus (God’s Peace be upon him), as Joseph leads them out of Nazareth and into Egypt. They also depart Egypt in the same way, a few years later.

Donkeys, as well as horses and mules, and even cattle and water buffalo, are hard working animals, created by God specifically to please and assist their human owners, capable of performing long hours of heavy labor to ease our efforts. In the Qur’an, the Holy Scriptures of Islam, we are enlightened about this in Book 16, verses 5-8:

And the cattle He has created for you
From them you have warm clothing
And uses and whereof you eat
And wherein is beauty for you
When you bring them home
And when you take them out to pasture
And they carry your loads unto a land you could not reach
Except with souls distressed
Behold! Your Lord is indeed Most Kind Most Merciful
And (He has created) horses and mules and donkeys
That you may ride them and for ornament
And He creates that which you know not
(Qur’an 16:5-8)

Especially in the countryside, where the agricultural way of life is more common, it often seems there are more donkeys in Egypt than cars. There is a very special relationship between a farmer’s family and their donkey. Donkeys are able to find their way into the fields, going where no car or truck can go. They feed themselves politely from the field while the farmer is loading up their backs with bundles. They are the most patient of companions, traveling daily back and forth from home to field and from field to market, and finally from market back to home. They obediently carry whatever is required, patiently pulling a cart or a piece of farm equipment, and the sound of their clip clopping hooves on the street as they pass is very quaint and charming.

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Sustaining the environment, however, hinges upon sustaining the people and animals within it. Appreciating the importance of our dependence on work animals in the adoption of a more green lifestyle is critical. Labor performed without gas guzzling machinery, and transportation provided by sustainable energy will always require an ingenious mix of new technologies, like wind and solar power, and age old traditions, like donkeys and other working animals.

To support the health and welfare of Egypt’s working donkeys and horses, there is an incredibly helpful organization operating here. The Brooke Hospital for Animals, founded by Dorothy Brooke, has been in operation since 1934, and currently serves seven regions: Cairo, Luxor, Aswan, Edfu, Alexandria, Mersa Matruh and the Nile Delta, reaching approximately 200 communities. In 2010/11 they helped 167,000 working horses, donkeys and mules in the country.¬†According to the Brooke Organization website, they report:

“We run mobile veterinary clinics in the Nile Delta, treating working animals and educating their owners in animal welfare, parasitic infestation, grooming and hoof care, feeding and wound management. We provide quality vet services through Brooke clinics and support local health providers to increase their responsibility for treatment and prevention. We train paravets and farriers in the communities where we work. We improve animal welfare practices by providing training sessions, community meetings and best donkey and horse competitions. We conduct regional welfare assessments to provide evidence of improvements in the welfare of high-risk animals. We conduct animal-friendly research for example into eye-abnormalities, body lesions and de-worming.”

Best Donkey and Horse Competitions sound very interesting. You can be sure I’ll be reporting on those events, God Willing!

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About the Author

Aisha Abdelhamid (Birth-name Kathleen Vail) is a freelance lifestyle and environmental science writer currently living in Vancouver, BC. Her interests include environmental conservation, climate science, renewable energy, faith-based environmental activism, sustainable economics, corporate social responsibility, creative lifestyles, and healthy living.