The Donkey Sanctuary dispatched a team to Barbuda, one of the two major islands that make up the Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda, to ensure the welfare of the island’s feral donkeys in the wake of Hurricane Irma, which risk hindering the rebuilding efforts by straying onto the local airport runway.
In the third part of his report from the island, Simon Pope, Rapid Response and Campaigns Manager at The Donkey Sanctuary, begins looking at ways to keep donkeys off the runway and discovers the trials and tribulations of filming them...
Wednesday 4 October
“Our task on this latest trip was in response to a direct request from the government minister we’d met yesterday – to look at ways to stop donkeys wandering onto the airport runway, and how they could be driven away so that planes could land and take off safely.
Hurricane Irma had been so destructive that not an inch of the fence around the runway was still standing and the green grass and breezy open spaces of the tarmac runway were proving irresistible to Barbuda’s feral donkeys, as well as many of the horses belonging to the island’s people.
Our boat this time round had a variety of passengers. Besides the Donkey Sanctuary and Humane Society teams were two journalists from a French TV channel, making a documentary about the emergency response, a journalist from the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and some Barbudans coming back to begin rebuilding their homes and lives.
Nearly every vehicle we saw had been damaged in some way, with smashed windows or crushed roofs as the hurricane hurled everything in its path, but any that were serviceable were being commandeered for the relief effort.
We could see a group of horses and donkeys on the runway when we arrived, and they eyed us warily before moving further away. I had wanted to film the donkeys walking towards me along the tarmac, so I set the camera up on a bucket, right where the wheels of a plane landing would have touched down. I worked out the tactics with our team to gently coax the donkeys in the direction we wanted.
There is, of course, a universal truth that donkeys will either not do what you expect or what you want. However with Kevin and Rob Nichols as donkey wranglers, now being assisted by at least three dogs from the harbour who had attached themselves to us and seemed very keen to help, the donkeys seemed quite happy to play ball. I switched the camera on, press record and disappeared out of view.
However there were one or two factors I hadn’t considered. Accompanying us to the airport were the two journalists, who wanted to film our efforts. They seemed very excited when we worked out how to corral the donkeys down the runway but assured us they would not get in the way when we did so.
As the donkeys broke their cover from the undergrowth in which they had been happily munching their lunch and began to cooperatively cross the grass towards the tarmac, I was standing about 100 metres down the runway ready to begin filming. However at this precise moment, the two journalists also suddenly decided to break cover from the other side of the runway with video cameras in hand, and despite my loud and not-entirely-polite requests for them to return back into the bushes from where they had come, they didn’t seem to hear me. The donkeys, however, saw them very clearly and proceeded to hurtle in exactly the direction I didn’t want them to. I now said some very impolite words and sat on the tarmac until our surrogate herding dogs saw me and I vanished under a pile of hounds who thought this was the most splendid game ever.
The donkey wranglers shook their heads and said that we’d never get them back now but said they’d give it a go. By some miracle, four donkeys appeared from nowhere, dutifully trotted across the grass and then executed a sharp right onto the tarmac, in a move worthy of an Olympic dressage competition. They were helped on their way by one of the harbour dogs, who was clearly a sheepdog in a previous life. For his pains, he got a well-aimed reverse hoof at speed that just missed his face, which he seemed to find even more fun. I’d somehow managed to maintain composure while all this was going on and filmed the whole thing.”
If you would like to follow the team in Barbuda, or donate to help The Donkey Sanctuary support donkeys at times of crisis, please visit the JustGiving page.