The 31-year-old Tendeu is worried on how she is going to perform her family chores after her three donkeys, were stolen. The woman used donkeys as a means of transport. She used to drive them into the market and sources of water.
“It has been two months now since I lost all of my three animals. I couldn't find them until now," says Tendeu.
Tendeu is not alone; there are many villagers who have similar experiences of their donkeys being stolen. Donkeys play a vital role in rural economies through the provision of draught power and transport.
It is estimated that in the last five months more than 2,500 donkeys were being stolen from Maasai pastoralists’ communities in northern Tanzania’s regions of Manyara and Arusha.
Johnson Lyimo is an Arusha-based animal welfare activist, who expressed concerns over the new threat; citing high demand of donkey meat for export has contributed to the donkey theft incidences in northern Tanzania.
Donkey theft in the area mostly inhabited with Maasai pastoralists’ community is being fueled with lucrative business of the domestic animals in Dodoma, whereby report say that one donkey can fetch as much as 300,000/-.
“In collaboration with local communities, we’ve embarked in awareness campaign to empower Maasai pastoralist communities in Simanjiro District with new skills on how to protect donkeys from theft,” he says.
He says the campaign came after reports that a number of donkeys are being stolen in the district by people who were allegedly taking the animals to Dodoma Region.
Lyimo who is the coordinator of Meru Animal Welfare Organisation (MAWO) in Arusha says recently, villagers in Naberera seized 200 donkeys, which were packed in a lorry ready for transport to the Tanzania’s capital Dodoma, where there is an abattoir for donkey.”
“It is difficult to convince people to sell their animals; because they are very useful in the area. So, they resorted to steal them. And the challenge in the area is that people never keep the animal as they do for cattle whereby they are kept in a boma…this makes easy for thieves to steal donkeys,” he says.
In the new campaign, people in the area have formed a ‘Community Donkey Security Network (CDSN)’—a platform for local communities to exchange information on the security of the working animals in their localities.
“So we’ve been telling people to start keeping donkeys in shelters as it is the case of cattle. This will help to reduce theft incidences, which currently are on top gear,” Lyimo says.
He adds: “We have been using different platforms including community-based radios to cover more areas and tell the community to keep their donkeys in boma as most of them were stolen during the night hours and outside the boma.”
According to him, with the support from local government leaders, more people will be informed on how to save donkeys which plays an imperative role when it comes to providing cheap transport for rural communities.
“We are working together with community leaders as they still need the animals for their day to day activities.”
Another activist of animal welfare Dauson Katurisa says people in the area had been complaining about the decreasing number of donkeys in their localities due to a new wave of theft.
“These people here are relying on donkeys as their transport means. They use donkeys in transporting luggage, water for domestic use and for farms irrigation,” says Katurisa, an official of MAWO
MAWO is non-profit animal-welfare organisation working in the northern Tanzania, which fights for the five freedoms of animals namely freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from discomfort, freedom from pain, injury and disease, freedom from fear and distress and freedom to express normal behaviour.
Naberera village chairman, Jacob Korosi said that donkeys’ theft incidences, some leaders were involved.
So far, he said that more than 2500 donkeys had been stolen in the district, which leads in northern Tanzania for having large number of donkeys.
Simanjiro District is estimated to have more than 30,000 donkeys and is the leading district in Manyara Region. Other districts which are popular for taking care of donkey in Arusha include Longido, Monduli, Ngorongoro and Arusha.
Reports show that the Dodoma-based donkey abattoir slaughters 200 donkeys per day and exports meat to China and Turkey.
An estimated 39 million donkeys live in the developing world and 36percent of this number is found in Africa. It is estimated that there were about 250,000 working donkeys in Tanzania.