*Disclaimer: This post may be a bit sensitive to some of us, but it aims to inform of the reality faced by most animals in Senegal for those of us who are sensitive to animal suffering.
To many foreigners, animals are special and dear to our hearts. Whether or not we are meat-eaters, we view all living things as creatures to be cherished and respected. We enjoy having pets in our home, and see them as part of the family, with personalities, and their dependence on us for their happiness and well-being is something we take seriously. We think of work animals such as horses and donkeys as noble and gentle; and of meat animals such as sheep and cows as beautiful and innocent, even if we have to eat them.
But as you know, life is often extremely difficult for the average Senegalese person – so we can only imagine how difficult life is for animals.
This blog is meant to help prepare the animal lovers among us, mentally and emotionally, for their time in a Senegalese reality for animals.
How do the Senegalese feel about animals?
This is in stark contrast to the vast majority of Senegalese people, and perhaps African people in general. This is admittedly a vast generalization; and excludes many Senegalese who have lived abroad in Western countries, or who have been raised differently in Senegal to cherish animals – they do exist!
But if you hope to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for living in Senegal on a daily basis, it’s important to understand the vast majority of Senegalese’ mentality toward animals.
Overall, the Senegalese have a fear for dogs, and this leads to serious misunderstandings. The vast majority are never taught how to appropriately interact with dogs; instead, they are taught to avoid them. (You will often hear a parent tell a curious or provoking child, “He will bite you!”) They are fearful that dogs will attack them; so this is often converted into taunting and provoking as bands of young boys will mercilessly tease a dog –at the horror of a passing “toubab” – until either someone gets hurt, or the dog escapes. They mostly avoid dogs, in general, for this reason – and therefore have little understanding of dog behavior, psychology, needs, and capacity to love human beings.
They have a vague notion of dog loyalty, but do not typically go out of their way usually to experience this on a personal level.
To care for a dog as a pet in your home means an extra expense that a Senegalese family usually just does not often have. The way we care for our pets seems like an unnecessary luxury to an average Senegalese person. The dog is by far the last priority in the household. If they do have one, they most often eat the families’ leftovers; bones, rice, and sometimes chicken or sheep innards. They rarely get true dog food, especially since dog food in Senegal is imported and extremely expensive even by foreigners’ standards. If the dog gets sick, they are rarely taken to a veterinarian, and it’s also very rare that they will be up to date on all shots and vaccinations when living with a Senegalese family. After all, there are many things that are much more pressing than a dog’s preventative healthcare – often, a human’s! And in this sense, how can you blame them? For purebreds, they are mostly seen with (1) curiosity; (2) for their potential $ resale value; (3) with wary respect, especially if they are kept as guard dogs – i.e., Pitbulls, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, etc. There is a significant market in Senegal for ‘guard dogs,’ which only really is open to purebreds. Unfortunately, the reality is that these dogs are tied up for the entire day either in a dog house or in a small room alone until evening when everyone has gone to bed. Then the dog is let out to roam the property, with the guard, to scare off potential thieves.
For Senegalese who are more religious, dogs are considered an impure animal in the Koran; if you touch a dog, you will need to do a ritual washing called wudu (or japp in Wolof) again before praying. This doesn’t apply to cats. For this reason, Senegalese avoid touching, caressing, or interacting with dogs on any level.
Although cats aren’t seen as "impure" like dogs are; they are culturally viewed as “disloyal.” There are stories that circulate, like this one: ‘a person that loved her cat passed away, and as soon as she died, the cat abandoned the house. When the cat returned looking for food, the rest of the family killed it for being disloyal’ – or this one – ‘Cats will bring live snakes into the house and drop them into your bed.’ So they are almost never seen as a true pet. Cats are mostly seen as “pests,” like mice, rats, or cockroaches. Every 45 days or so, a cat can reproduce again, so if a cat feels safe on your property, she will return every month or so to give birth again. Senegalese people see kittens as nuisances and noise-makers, so when they find a kitten nest, they tend to take the kittens and take them somewhere else. Sometimes they dispose of them blocks away, to another neighborhood, or in an abandoned field. Sometimes the mother cat can’t find them anymore, and they die, or are eaten by stray dogs. Expats are constantly finding abandoned kittens, and aren’t sure if the mother is nearby or not, or if the kitten needs help. Usually, this is the case; if you find a kitten alone, in a strange place out in the open, chances are the mother doesn’t know where they are anymore and they have been cast out by a Senegalese family. In general, the longer a cat stays on the street, the more feral they become. Adult cats do not make good pets for adoption, since they have lived in a survival mode for so long and are extremely wary of humans. They do not like being approached, or touched, and are extremely guarded – so it is not recommended to try to catch or pet them. Remember, many stray animals have diseases, including rabies, so be careful.
If you’re interested in adopting a street cat or dog, please contact LPA (League for the Protection of Animals), which has a Facebook page. They often have official adoption periods; but always have fostered kittens and puppies available and in need of a home, which have been vaccinated and sterilized.
Horses & Donkeys
Dakar is one of the few African metropolitan cities where horses and donkeys (and other livestock) are still regularly used and seen throughout the city; often times right next to the BMWs and Mercedes on the highway! It’s pretty cool to see horses everywhere, still in use; sort of takes us back to a nostalgic time where this was the case in our own countries, long ago.
However, it is probably very difficult for you to see work animals such as horses and donkeys in Senegal. Horses have become far more common in Dakar than donkeys, and can be seen pretty much in every neighborhood except downtown. They pull wooden carts, which can be filled with anything from construction materials, to garbage and trash, and people. They can be seen hauling tons of cement bricks, obviously struggling, and often do not have the right footwear, which doesn’t protect their hooves and occasionally causes them to slip.
There is also not a good awareness of how to care for horses, and since their owners have extremely limited means, they do not often have the financial capacity to pay for enough food, water, vitamins, and vaccinations. A lack of adequate water beneath the hot sun and often being overworked leads to exhaustion, and sometimes horses collapse under the weight of their carts. You’ll see them with the ankles tied together with ropes, “parked” in the open with a bag of food over their mouths – but sometimes with water nowhere in sight. For those who love and know horses, we know that they are not camels; horses needs a significant quantity of drinking water per day, and more so if they are working.
There is a British NGO you can get involved with if you are interested in helping local horses and donkeys in Senegal, called “The Brooke” (www.thebrooke.org). If you or your spouse is looking to get involved with volunteering while in Senegal, and this is a topic of interest, they would be open to exploring opportunities with you.
Sheep & Goats
When was the last time you actually saw a sheep or a goat up close? For those of us who come from urban or semi-urban areas back home, it’s rare that we see livestock – and the care, trade, daily lives, and slaughter of them – in person.
Dakar is one of the rare African cities that still has sheep and goats regularly for sale and bought on the side of roads, tied up in front of homes for an event, or kept in people’s homes in a spare room on the roof or in the back as an income-generator. There is always a high-demand for sheep especially, as every holiday demands the slaughter of at least one ram (preferably white, and as large as possible). Sheep meat is probably the most highly-consumed meat in Senegal.
Goats are also consumed, but to a lesser extent, in the city; due to their cost which is a bit less economical than a sheep.
Something to be aware of with sheep and goats, is the rough way they tend to be handled. They are almost always tied up by their ankles, whether standing outside for sale, or being tossed onto the top of a taxi or bus, or in the back of a truck. It often tugs at our heart strings to see how pitiless it seems when the Senegalese handle sheep and goats; and worse, they are often slaughtered outside in the road during holidays such as Tabaski or Korite (the end of Ramadan). If it’s a Senegalese holiday, and you live in a neighborhood with Senegalese neighbors, it’s best to stay inside in the morning if you want to minimize your chances of witnesses this unpleasant act.
*Senegalese holidays will be discussed in a separate article. Cows
Don’t be surprised, as metropolitan and semi-modern as Dakar is, to see a herd of cows with enormous horns walking alongside traffic and in parking lots, calmly munching on garbage.
These cows are Brahmans (in case you’d like to Google it) and their horns are truly impressive; long and thick, jetting out to the sides, and curling up at the end into a spike. They are not dangerous, however, assuming you don’t touch them or get in between them and their calves. As long as you walk calmly by them, and don’t stop to try to pet or take pictures, you shouldn’t have any problems.
Cows are semi-revered in Senegal, as historically they are kept by Pulaar-Senegalese, who kept herds of them to trade and use as assets (not selling them for meat). They are usually left alone by everyone else.
You will rarely see the owner/herder of the cows with them; they seem completely free and untouched. But everyone around you in the neighborhood will know where they come from and who owns them. It’s a very nonchalant thing!
The Zoo - Parc Hann
Before taking your children to visit the Dakar zoo, there are a few things to be aware of.
The zoo is a striking example of animal neglect and suffering. Recently, (as often is the case), many people called for its closure, due to the inhumane conditions, lack of medical attention and nutritious food, and the general neglect of animals.
Male and female lions are kept in the same enclosure, which routinely results in overpopulation of the already cramped cage - which lacks any semblance of a natural environment - filled with babies, and adults covered in fight wounds that might be infected.
Herbivores such as water buffalo are fed mountains of stale bread; alligators are kept in the same enclosure with exotic birds who are regularly attacked and have infected sores. Chimpanzees and monkeys are kept in turn of the 20th-century-style vertical cages, with barely any room to move or play, tied by their waste to the bars, and in plain accessibility to children with candy, rocks, or garbage. Most of the animals are living in cages and enclosures far too small for their natural inclinations, and resort to endless pacing, which is a sign of animal stress. It's not clear who owns Parc Hann, and where the funds - if any - are going. Is it a mayor-funded park, a national park, or privately owned? It's fairly clear that whatever funds are meant for the zoo are not being funneled appropriately, and they are not sufficient. If you are interested in doing something to help the animals at Parc Hann, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we can get you in touch with those in charge of animal activism in Dakar.