Where goeth the donkey?

April 6, 2007 at 1:42 am 3 comments

Flick photo by Hendo 101When I think of Mediterranean countries, images of azure seas sparkling in the sun against a backdrop of white-washed houses baking in the sun comes to me, along with narrow, winding hilltop pathways descending to the sea. Down these pathways, a sturdy animal laboriously winds it way down, laden with baskets of fruit and vegetables. An image perhaps not too unfamiliar in the time of Homer or Xenophon.

In ancient times, the Arcadian donkey was a familiar sight. In modern Greece, however, the number of donkeys (including the Arcadian) has fallen 96.4%, from 508,000 to 18,173, between 1955 and 2006 and numbers are still falling.

The donkeys on the ‘extinction hit list’ are numerous: Asinara, Sardinia, Sicily and Corfu donkeys; and the Martina Franca donkey of southern Italy has just been saved from extinction, only to be targeted for its meat.

I just don’t get the sad stories I’ve come across: donkeys brutalised and tortured; and the saddest case of a donkey in a Spanish village forced to bear the weight of the heaviest man at each annual fiesta “until the unfortunate creature was crushed and died of exhaustion“. Are we humans so cruel and can find nothing better to do than torture poor animals? is it a reaction or denial of our agrarian past?

Fortunately, there is Judy Quinn, who opened the Donkey Rescue Centre on Corfu, two and a half years ago. 45 donkeys are being cared for by this wonderful woman who has found new homes in Austria, Germany, Holland and Britain. She funds the sanctuary with her own money and has fought off attempts by the Greek Government to shut the sanctuary down because of planning objections. An outbreak of equine infectious anaemia struck earlier this year and so funds are being raised to help quarantine the donkeys.

As the world explores what an environmentally sustainable future needs to look like, surely transportation provided by the donkey is a sure bet – no expensive fossil fuels needed; no polluted air from cars; no traffic jams. Obviously, we can’t rush down the streets of Sydney or New York on donkeys as we make our way to work, but in cultures where the donkey has a long history of being the major transport, we can help to save them rather than making them the objects of cruelty.

So full marks to the island of Hydra who have banned all cars and motorcycles, so that the natural beauty of the island is preserved. Land transport is by the humble mule or donkey. Hydra will certainly be on my future holiday list.

And those smart people at the Free University of Hydra hit on the idea of establishing a biennial conference on the role of the donkey and the mule in Mediterranean culture, past and future. The first conference was held on 7-10 October 2005. There were 25 international speakers and another 25 were turned down for reasons of time. How good is that!

Of course, what ANZAC Day would be complete without remembering Simpson and his donkey, who valiantly rescued Australian and New Zealand soldiers trapped by shellfire at Gallipoli in WWI. And as we celebrate Easter, the Christian religion holds the donkey close to its heart with imagery of this humble animal quietly and determinedly carrying Mary, the mother of Jesus, from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

In Ethiopia, the donkey is an important economic symbol. Ownership of a donkey secures a woman’s financial independence and an old Ethiopian proverb states: “A woman without a donkey is a donkey herself.”

So….while we celebrate Easter, let’s take a moment to consider this endangered species. To learn more, you can visit the UK Donkey Sanctuary website; the Corfu Donkey Rescue website; and the Donkey Home Page.

Entry filed under: Endangered species, Nature, Sustainability.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Kathy  |  April 26, 2008 at 9:08 am

    I love that quote, “A woman without a donkey is a donkey herself”. I have two donkeys (so guess that saves me!!). Two of the most loved and appreciated companions you could ever have. They are sensitive, loving, extremely intelligent, interested in everything that is going on, have great senses of humour and are as tough as old boots. I can’t bear to think of all the suffering these animals have had to endure at the hands of man.

    And come Peak Oil… me and my girls plan to lead the way in Tasmania on transport issues!!

    Tea Tree

  • 2. Bill  |  July 17, 2008 at 8:38 pm

    I’ve just come across this post and would like to update matters concerning the Corfu Donkey Rescue. It is at imminent risk of closure, the authorities anticipate “sealing” it before the end of this month (July 2008).

    Please help support Judy’s campaign to keep the place on until she has finished sorting out the relocation of 40 donkeys by adding your name to the following petition:


    Thank you.

  • 3. Dimitrios Benopoulos  |  December 19, 2009 at 9:48 am

    Im interested in learning more about the unique arcadian breed of donkey!!


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