On day three of my visit to Spain, Andrew and I visited Cordoba Zoo where we were met by Ana who leads the donkey assisted therapy project supported by Jose and Cristina who are all employed by The Donkey Sanctuary.
Our collaboration with the zoo and the local university makes the project possible as the behaviour, animal care and assisted therapy students all volunteer regularly which enables the team to deliver safe riding and cart ride sessions.
The five large donkeys - they are larger than a standard UK donkey but smaller than a Poitou - are led through the zoo each day from their stable area, they pass brown bears, flamingos, wild boar, zebra, deer, a young leopard, a lynx and the loud speakers cackle loudly the sound of screeching monkeys ahead of each zoo announcement.
They seem to take no notice of the exciting sounds and smells. Most donkeys would be horrified by this barrage to the senses but our lovely donkeys walk calmly past it all.
The zoo has provided us with a dedicated sand arena, a shaded grooming and standing area and a practical store for all the equipment. I watched the volunteers and young adults with additional needs work with the staff to prepare the donkeys by grooming and picking out hooves and then fitting the tack. They all worked quietly and had a lovely rapport with the donkeys.
Harness and saddles have been provided by The Donkey Sanctuary. Their carriage, which is a replica of a two wheel UK donkey cart, has been made of very heavy steel and is actually quite a bit too small and the shafts are too short for these larger Spanish donkeys.
I have recommended that they look at raising funds to purchase a more suitable sized four wheel vehicle which will be much easier for the donkeys to pull, but in the mean time I was able to help them adjust the harness to make the donkey more comfortable and balance the vehicle so it was easier for him to pull.
One of the young adults with additional needs was then able to lead the donkey and cart around the zoo with support from Jose. The other donkeys were led in the arena with their saddles and bridles on.
When younger children attend the therapy sessions they ride the donkeys or have a ride in the cart. The temperature that day hit 41 degrees centigrade which was too hot for the children to ride as the sand arena is in the sun.
The Director of the zoo, Manuel Majo, came out to meet us. I (through translation by Ana) told him how impressed I was with the facilities he was providing both for the zoo animals and for the donkey assisted therapy facility.
I explained that I felt that Cordoba Zoo could become the centre of excellence for donkey assisted therapy in Europe and be a benchmark for other projects to aspire to.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Spain, it was so motivating to see what was being achieved.