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In 2011, eastern Africa experienced the worst drought in 60 years, resulting in a large-scale famine. With the consequent death of 8 million livestock and many nomadic pastoralists dependent on working animals for their survival, Kenya was faced with a humanitarian emergency. Photo: SPANA

In addition to providing veterinary care and education, SPANA also partners with local organizations to address a spate of issues ranging from the localized needs of a particular area to humanitarian crises such as widespread droughts. And whenever possible, the charity strives to go beyond delivering disaster relief by investing in projects which create long-term sustainability in communities that exist in the most extreme and difficult environments.

In the spring of that year, SPANA moved quickly in collaboration with a local Kenyan organization to provide thousands of animals with food, water, supplements and vaccines. In addition, it also furnished fuel subsidies to several villages for trucking water for both livestock and human use. A nucleus of 50,000 animals were saved as a result, allowing desperate pastorialists to resume their livelihoods when the rains returned in the autumn. Photo: SPANA
Turkana in Kenya is one of the poorest, most isolated places on earth. It’s always a precarious existence for its nomadic inhabitants, but when the rains failed in 2011, the community was hanging on to life by the slimmest of margins. It’s estimated that 90% of families in Turkana lost their livestock as a result of the drought. Photo: SPANA
By building dams that capture rainwater, SPANA, working in conjunction with another charity, was able to provide the area with a long-term, sustainable solution to crises brought on by frequent droughts. Photo: SPANA
These dams, which can hold water for well over a year, are able to cater to about 45,000 donkeys, camels and livestock. So the next time the area is stricken by drought, these dams will save the lives of many animals, thereby securing the livelihoods of their owners too. Photo: SPANA
In Botswana, donkeys and livestock often roam free in search of grazing areas. These animals usually belong to the poorest members of Botswana’s society who have no choice but to let them wander in search of food in the sparse desert environment. This has resulted in many night-time traffic accidents as drivers often don’t see the animals in time to brake. It’s not just the donkeys and livestock who have been killed and maimed in these accidents, but motorists too. Photo: SPANA/MAWS
Responding to an appeal by a partner nonprofit, SPANA has funded a project in which locally-recruited staff has attached reflective ear tags onto 500 donkeys in northern Botswana. The aim is to roll out the program to a wider area with a view to not only reducing collisions, but also to spurring the development of small community enterprises centered on the sale of these tags. Photo: SPANA/MAWS

SPANA’s Origins

SPANA was formed in 1923 by a courageous and energetic English woman, Kate Hosali, and her daughter, Nina. Appalled by the suffering and neglect of animals they had witnessed in North Africa while on an 8-month tour of the Middle East, they formed SPANA upon their return to London. Originally known as the Society for the Protection of Animals in North Africa, the charity was helmed by a number of notables and funded by private donations from England and America.

Kate Hosali, aged 30. Kate had been passionate about animal rights her entire life, working on behalf of cats, dogs and horses in the UK before her advocacy took her to Africa. She was not shy about confronting the abusive owners of cart-pulling horses right in the middle of the street. One day, dismayed at the sight of a horse who was being beaten and kicked by its owner as the animal was struggling to pull a heavy load of coal on a hilly and slippery Glasgow street, Kate harangued the carter to lighten the load. When he refused, she asked some young men standing nearby to help her push the cart up the hill. When they refused, she got behind the cart and began pushing it herself. It was then that the bystanders went to her aid and the horse was able to manage the rest of the hill. Photo: SPANA
Kate’s daughter, Nina, in the 1930s. She too shared her mother’s passion for animals. In Rome, while making their way back to England from their African tour, Kate and Nina encountered a man beating a small donkey who was straining to pull an over-loaded cart. They seized the reins from the man and ordered him to shed some of the freight. He began beating Kate and Nina on the arms. Still, they doggedly held on to the reins. The result of this tenacity? The man struck Nina in the face, causing her nose to bleed. After they left Rome, the women found out that the carter had been convicted of cruelty and fined. Photo: SPANA

From the onset, the Society’s goal was not to punish those guilty of animal cruelty, but rather to provide free veterinary care for working animals. It was agreed that this would be accomplished by the creation of treatment centers throughout North Africa, a man’s job if there ever was one – or so it was considered at the time.

So, the net was cast far and wide in search of a suitable candidate. The ideal person for the job did not have to be a veterinarian, but had to have considerable practical experience in caring for animals. “A knowledge of French was essential and also organizing ability, compassion, courage, tact, imagination, and a few other attributes of that sort. In fact it became apparent that a completely unique sort of person was needed, who had the qualities and capabilities of a pioneer.” In addition, the person also had to be a skillful diplomat as what SPANA was proposing to do was without precedent.

Kate with a donkey and a mule in North Africa in the 1920s. Photo: SPANA.

Not only did the Society have to gain the trust of the native population, but also the cooperation of the occupying French authorities. A false step could jeopardize the whole operation. After an extensive search failed to uncover such a man, it became increasingly clear that the only one up to the task was Kate Hosali herself. So, in 1924, this white, middle-aged woman (she was 47 years old at the time), set out on her own, headed for Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. This, of course, was long before the days of cell phones and air travel. Did I also mention that she had a bad heart?

Kate volunteered to go to Africa for a year at her own expense. She ended up staying there for the rest of her life, returning to England only for short periods of time to settle business affairs and report on the progress of SPANA. She died in Marrakech in 1944 at the age of 67 after devoting 21 years to the care of working animals in North Africa. Her daughter was unable to be by her side as World War II made travel to the region impossible.

Kate looking for sores. Kate’s approach to nursing ill and injured animals was proactive from the start. She didn’t wait for the owners to come to her. Instead, she sought them out, adopting the extremely effective strategy of visiting various towns during the weekly market gatherings or souks. In the course of 21 months, she had visited no less than 58 towns spread out over a 1,500-mile area. Not only was it unheard of for a European to do this, but she accomplished it all under a scorching sun, without the aid of today’s speedy roads and transport systems and all the while being in relatively ill health. Photo: SPANA
Kate treating sores. In a letter that she wrote to Nina in 1925, Kate describes the scene of her arrival in a souk: “Early on my first morning, I went to the market place and treated a donkey’s sore and said the magic word “Batel” (free). Before I finished two more were at my elbow, and before I had done those I was in a crowd of Arabs and donkeys. From that moment, I never raised my eyes from donkey’s backs except twice, when they brought me a mule and then a camel.” Kate, loved and respected by the people, came to be known as the “Toubiba,” or Lady Doctor. Photo: SPANA
Kate with doughnut bandages for the treatment of harness sores. Photo: SPANA
Nina in Sousse, Tunisia in 1947. Leaving her administrative duties behind, Nina returned to Africa after the war to rebuild SPANA’s centers and shore up its services, particularly the children’s education programs. To her also went the unenviable task of shepherding the charity through the turbulent post-war struggles for independence occurring in North Africa. Photo: SPANA.
L. to r.: When she was young, it was science and mathematics which captured Nina’s interest and after receiving a science degree from University College, London, she hoped to pursue a career in seismology – surely a unique choice of profession among young women at the time (or indeed, even today). But, after that fateful tour of North Africa with her mother, Nina abandoned her intended career, taking up the mantle of SPANA instead. She selflessly and tirelessly devoted the next 40 years of her life to alleviating the suffering of working animals, receiving an OBE in 1976. Nina died in 1987 at the age of 89. Photo: SPANA.; In 1978, Nina published a book about her mother and SPANA called Kate Who Was Called the Toubiba. She writes about the Society’s formation and progress up until the 1960s, chronicling the efforts of numerous people on the charity’s behalf, many of which can only be described as heroic. It is from this book that I quote Kate and Nina’s words.

Fund Raising

SPANA receives no government funding at all. Its work is made possible by the donations of individuals, trusts and foundations, with the majority of financing coming from individuals and legacies. There is very little institutional giving. Another way the Society raises funds is by participating in sponsored activities and by hosting events such as garden parties and dinners. There’s also an online gift shop which ships purchases internationally. (I know where I’ll be buying my holiday cards this year.) Approximately 80% of every donation goes towards SPANA’s veterinary and education programs.

To find out how you can help, click here.

Andy Stringer, Ph.D., SPANA’s young Director of Veterinary Programs and Katie Kennedy, its Communications Officer, flanking a life-size stuffed donkey at the Society’s London headquarters.
That’s Andy Stringer under the stuffed donkey which has straps and can be worn as a sort of backpack – a very large one weighing in at 40 lbs. Remarkably, Dr. Stringer wore this costume while walking the London marathon in 2011 – all 26 miles of it. He is shown here approaching the finish line near Buckingham Palace. It took Dr. Stringer 9 hours and 24 minutes to complete the race, impressively raising over $5,000 for the charity that day. Photo: SPANA
Jeremy Hulme, SPANA’s Chief Executive, at a Stride Out event, with a furry friend. One way in which the Society raises money is through its Stride Out program whereby participants organize or join an already existing sponsored event such as a walk, run, cycle or horseback ride. The initiative can be as simple as a walk with friends or as challenging as a mountain-climbing trek. Either way, there are many ways to help, including holding a bake sale or hosting a dinner party.

Before I conclude, I’d like to add a few words about ethical animal tourism. Many people enjoy animal treks or carriage sightseeing tours while on holiday. The sad truth however, is that sometimes, these animals are overworked, underfed, neglected, beaten and often do not receive any veterinary care at all. The truth is also that tourists can make a difference in how the horses, donkeys, mules and camels they are exposed to, are treated. Adherents to SPANA’s Holiday Hooves Guide will support owners who are kind to their animals. This, in turn, will encourage other owners to do the same. Travelers can also report animal abuse to the appropriate tourist board, often an effective means of spurring change for no country wants to repel tourists. For a list of tourism offices around the world, click here.

Tourist camels in Tunisia. Photo: SPANA/Katie Cockerill

Complaints to Morocco’s tourism office and to SPANA, in fact, are what kick-started a huge improvement in the welfare of the calèche horse in Marrakech. Remember those at the beginning of Part I? I did promise a happy ending and here it is: For some time, many tourists, appalled by the sorry state of these horses, refused to board the carriages. And as I mentioned, complaints were made. SPANA began appealing to local officials and after several years of lobbying, a law was passed which mandates that all calèche horses must receive a veterinary examination from SPANA every three months. If the horses are given the all-clear by the vets, a band is placed on their foreleg. This band changes color quarterly and police officers inspect the horses to make sure they are wearing the correct color band. Otherwise, those horses are not permitted to pull the carriages.

A calèche owner with his horses. Notice the yellow SPANA bands on the horses’ left forelegs.

Yearly contests are now held and monetary prizes given out for best horse, best calèche and best combination of horse and calèche. Not only that, but the winners receive plaques which they proudly affix onto their carriages. It’s become a real point of pride among the carriage drivers. Since this law was put into place a dozen years ago, SPANA has received very few complaints about the calèche horses in Marrakech. Happy horses has meant happy tourists which has meant happy drivers as their income has increased. SPANA is currently in the process of replicating this licensing scheme in Tunisia.

SPANA has worked tirelessly on behalf of the welfare of the world’s working animals for close to a century in some of the most forbidding and challenging spots on earth. Ideally, the charity would like to not have to exist. Until needless animal suffering is eliminated, however, there is much work to be done. Unfortunately, the needs are infinite and the resources are finite particularly as SPANA is always looking to extend its coverage in areas where its help is badly needed. It is currently considering expanding its outreach programs in Senegal, Zimbabwe and Mongolia.

Another pleasant spot in SPANA’s Marrakech center.

Click here for SPANA, Part I

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