On the job with Jean Gilchrist and crew at the Kenya SPCA
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 1999:
NAIROBI––“Kenya SPCA director of animal welfare
Jean Gilchrist, KSPCA vice chair Dr. S.V. Varma, some
KSPCA staff, and a visiting vet from Burundi set off bright
and early one morning on a field trip to Naivasha,” recounted
the Kenya SPCA July/September 1999 quarterly report.
“They were looking forward to a day in the country,
but things did not go according to plan. They were inching
their way through traffic when out of an alley hurtled a bull,
closely followed by a pack of screaming men, wielding clubs.
“Jean stopped the vehicle and took off in hot pursuit.
She grabbed one man, wrestled his club away, and pounced on
the next man, also grabbing his club, waving both in the air
and bellowing at the gathering crowd of about 300 people. The
men insisted they were not going to club the bull, but Jean
noticed that one of the clubs had blood on it.
“By now the KSPCA staff had caught up with her and
joined in the informal discussion group. Dr. Varma looked on
from the vehicle as the crowd grew until all he could see of
Jean was the occasional club waving in the air. The vet from
Burundi kept saying, ‘How interesting,’ as blood from a nearby
slaughterhouse poured past the vehicle in an open drain.
“After sorting out the bull, they set off again. The
visit to Naivasha went well, but on the return journey they followed
a heavily laden pickup truck creeping up the escarpment
into Nairobi, heavily laden with sheep. On inspection, the
pickup was found to hold 36 sheep––far too many. Twelve
sheep were immediately released to be herded back to wherever
they came from. The remainder were reloaded into the pickup,
except for a handful who were loaded into the KSPCA vehicle.
“The vet from Burundi recited ‘How interesting’ all
the way back to KSPCA headquarters. Dr. Varma was silent,
as the sheep on his lap inhibited his ability to converse.”
The Scots-born Gilchrist emigrated to Kenya in 1969,
intending to make her mark as a wildlife photographer. She
stands out as the only non-Kenyan native on the KSPCA staff
of more than 20 people, and one of just two fulltime staff of
European descent. There is no filing cabinet in her office. She
freely admits that paperwork is not her strong point. Yet the
KSPCA hums with well-organized activity. Dogs––120 to 130
in residence at a time––enjoy spacious outdoor pens, rotating
in and out of indoor kennels as is necessary to prevent fighting.
Cats occupy screened sheds with lots of climbing opportunities,
multiple outdoor views, and companionship. African gray parrots
confiscated from smugglers by the Kenya Wildlife Service,
just down the road, are quarantined in makeshift aviaries.
The five-acre KSPCA also includes multiple
indoor/outdoor rabbit quarters, since it receives rabbits as often
as cats. Fowl ranging from geese to former fighting cocks have
the run of the grounds. Altogether, the KSPCA at any given
time handles between 20 and 30 species. Gilchrist briefly interrupted
an interview with ANIMAL PEOPLE to sign off on the
previously arranged adoption of a Holstein cow. The KSPCA
annually adopts out about 300 dogs and 100 cats. Adoptions of
other species are not tabulated.
The Donkey Sanctuary of Great Britain sponsors a
donkey hospital at the KSPCA, mobile clinics which
dewormed 5,840 donkeys around Kenya in 1998. A resident
herd of as many as 35 donkeys seized in cruelty cases or abandoned
by their owners, and a harness shop, where three men
make soft harnesses to replace the wooden yokes still used by
many rural Kenyans. The donkeys enjoy extra pasture loaned
by the Hillcrest Secondary School, next door.
Fundraising enterprises include an on-site store selling
pet supplies, souvenirs, second-hand goods, and used
books, and a kiosk in the nearby village of Karen, which
offers local handicrafts to tourists.
A clinic staffed by local veterinarians on a rotating
basis fixes all dogs, cats, and rabbits before adoption, and
does low-cost and free neutering for the community.
“If we investigate anything with a bitch involved, we
try to fix her,” Gilchrist explains.
Senior cruelty inspector Javan Agesa, inspector
Bernard Atsiaya, two other inspectors in Nairobi, and two
trainees at a branch KSPCA office in Mombasa among them
investigate more than 120 cruelty complaints per month. But
prosecutions are rare, says Agesa, “because usually a warning
from us, with an explanation of what should be done, is sufficient.
Sometimes we meet with belligerance,” Agesa acknowledges.
“Then the threat of court is normally sufficient. Rarely
does anyone want to have to stand before a judge.”
Agesa, the longest-tenured KSPA staffer after 18
years, has the additional responsibility of doing about 15
slaughterhouse inspections per month. Trained in Britain by
the Humane Slaughter Association, Agesa ensures that the
slaughterhouses use captive bolt guns to stun animals, instead
of old-fashioned sledgehammering. The sale and distribution
of ammunition of any kind is tightly controlled in Kenya,
where hunting and private possession of firearms are illegal,
and the KSPCA is the only institution authorized to import and
sell the blank .22 cartridges that propel the captive bolts.
Agesa acknowledges that the slaughterhouse visits
are not a pleasant part of his work, but he believes the captive
bolt guns have markedly reduced the suffering he used to see
back when weary crew at some of the places he inspects were
sledgehammering as many as 200 animals per day.
“I started as an assistant at a veterinary clinic that
worked with the KSPCA, got a chance to move over, and did,”
Agesa recalls. He joined the KSPCA before it built the present
shelter in 1985, with an bequest from the late Jean MacDonald.
Gilchrist was hired three years later.
Neither is certain of the origins of the KSPCA. The
existing records tell only that it started long before it was formally
incorporated––well before Kenya won independence
from Great Britain in 1963––and that in 1961 Queen Elizabeth
II honored founder L. Nourse for 32 years of service.
[Donations for the Kenya SPCA from outside Kenya
are processed by the Universities Federation for Animal
Welfare KSPCA Fund, c/o The Old School, Brewhouse Hill,
Wheathampstead, Herts AL4 8AN, U.K.]