Tucked away in a desert island paradise in the middle of the Caribbean, the Aruba Donkey Sanctuary protects and cares for some of the islands most vulnerable and at risk inhabitants.
As regular readers will know I am a huge animal lover and will always try and take time out to promote those organisations who are actively trying to help and care for animals, especially when those organisations can be helped and supported by the tourism industry.
I never expected to find one on as small an island as Aruba but there are wild animals here that need help just like anywhere else. In this instance it is the population of wild donkeys that need care and support, and the Aruba Donkey Sanctuary is a wonderful example of how tourism can have a positive impact when used in the right way, and how one persons compassion for animals can make such a huge difference.
Not native to Aruba, the humble donkey was introduced by the Spanish colonialism for transport and commerce, but were eventually considered obsolete and left to fend for themselves. These stubborn but harmless animals made a home in Aruba’s desert interior and thrived in what is a very welcoming and natural environment for them. But as Aruba’s popularity – and human population – grew, the now wild population of donkeys went from being obsolete to being considered a menace and a pest.
The humble donkey, a pest. Seriously.
With this less that salubrious status, donkeys were considered persona non grata by the islands inhabitants and were rounded up and shot, used as food for circus animals and were often simply run over and left for dead on the side of the road. Whilst many of these were accidents, a large number of donkeys were harmed intentionally, and sometimes even maliciously over the years.
No animal deserves that. Humans, maybe, but not animals.
‘The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.’ Mahatma Gandhi.
Thankfully the Aruba Donkey Sanctuary was set up in 1997 as a completely not for profit organisation, providing food, shelter and veterinary care to hundreds of donkeys who very much need it.
Preferring to keep the donkeys in the wild if it is possible, where the population has slowly grown back to a small but sustainable number over the years, the sanctuary only takes in donkeys who are injured or need permanent care and provide them with a safe haven on a 10 acre plot of land.
With the exception of the managing director of the non profit, Desiree Eldering, the sanctuary is run entirely by volunteers. Mostly these are provided by the British foundation Everything Is Possible, who provide practical, on site vocational skills to young people who want to build a career around animal welfare, and gives the sanctuary much needed practical labour. They are also open to volunteers with specific skills in animal welfare who may want to help out, or if you just happen to be passing through for a couple of days speak to one of the volunteers who will be happy to have a hand with some of the day to day jobs that ensure the donkeys are cared for.
But for those travellers who don’t have the time, skills or inclination to volunteer, there are plenty of other ways to help out and support the sanctuary just by visiting.
There is no entrance fee to visit, it is completely free, but of course donations are always welcome and you can buy food to help feed the donkeys, buy snacks or a souvenir in the small shop and give money that way. There are also adopt a donkey programmes and many other fundraising ideas which I wholeheartedly recommend.
Each donkey costs upwards of $60 USD a month to look after, feed and care for with veterinary and other expenses, and every single penny earned via the shop or adoption programmes, every single one, goes back into doing just that.
This is an important distinction, as there are many greenwashed ‘sanctuaries’ that look as if they are caring for animals when they are in fact exploiting them for profit from the tourist dollar.
The Aruba Donkey Sanctuary is a prime example of how to do it right, of how wildlife tourism can be a huge force for good, by supporting and funding organisations that care for animals in a positive, responsible and sustainable way.
So please, I urge all of you heading to Aruba to come to the Donkey Sanctuary and just make a donation, buy some food to fed the donkeys, buy as many T shirts and postcards and pens as you can from the shop, and of course don’t forget to give these awesome little guys a hug and a head rub too.
Because donkeys always need a good hug.
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