Struggling through mountainous rubbish tips heaped with broken glass and sharp metal, amid searing heat in "the bleakest workplace in the world", it's little wonder that the life expectancy for donkeys like this used to be just six months.
In the capital, Bamako, donkeys toil in temperatures often higher than 40 degrees Celsius.
In homemade harnesses, with ropes rubbing mercilessly against open wounds, the working animals spend their days pulling heavy rubbish carts up precipitous slopes, with little rest.
And with sharp objects a constant threat underfoot, frequent cuts and infections from tetanus are agonising – and, if left untreated, often lethal.
UK based working animal charity SPANA (the Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad) has set up regular visits to help the animals, including providing treatment and vaccinations for tetanus and other deadly diseases.
And thanks to the free veterinary care they provide on the Mali rubbish dumps, the life expectancy of the donkeys has risen by several years, with improved welfare for the animals.
Dr Ben Sturgeon, director of veterinary services for SPANA said: “We often see animals working in terribly difficult and dangerous environments, but the conditions here in Mali are truly shocking.
“The donkeys and their poverty-stricken owners sadly face a never-ending cycle of work, hauling backbreaking loads of rubbish in extreme heat.
“But SPANA is making a lifesaving difference to the animals here. In 2020, we treated more than 21,000 animals across Mali, including at the rubbish dumps of Bamako.”
Now, thanks to SPANA’s intervention, donkeys at the Bamako dumps finish work in the early afternoon, retiring to a purpose-built shelter that keeps them out of the intense sun.
The shelters provide food and water, and SPANA vets are on hand to treat any injuries while vaccinating against tetanus and other deadly diseases.
Old, worn saddle pads can be exchanged, and owners receive training and advice on how to care for their animals more humanely.
Treating sick and injured animals
Across the globe, last year SPANA treated 283,552 sick and injured animals and provided more than 350,000 veterinary treatments in total.
But the charity relies on the public to fund its vital work.
SPANA is currently raising funds to help pay for vaccinations to save the lives of working animals at serious risk from tetanus and other deadly diseases.
Regular donations can also contribute towards essential items such as bandages, medicines, antiseptics and anti-inflammatories, as well as food and bedding for animals.
Ben Sturgeon of SPANA added: “As everyone in the UK gets a jab, spare a thought for working animals overseas, whose lives can be saved by a simple vaccination.
“Vaccines and basic medicines can help prevent tetanus and other diseases from becoming a life-threatening consequence of even the smallest cuts and scratches.
“Prevention is far better than cure, so alongside our free vet care, another major focus of our work is education and training for owners to ensure they can look after their animals properly and treat them with respect and kindness.
“Our teams work tirelessly to improve the welfare of working animals around the world, but the need is enormous and we rely completely on the vital donations we receive from the public to continue our work and prevent animal suffering.”
For more information, and to support SPANA’s lifesaving work, visit www.spana.org/tetanus