A foal is discovered badly injured by a car and needs urgent medical attention but her mother is too scared to come with her. It’s a heart-rending decision for staff at Donkey Sanctuary Bonaire (DSB), a local organisation which cares for sick, injured and orphaned donkeys on the small island of Bonaire in the Dutch Caribbean, but in the end their only choice is to save her life. She is brought into the sanctuary and a vet performs emergency surgery, stitching the open wounds and putting her leg in splints. Staff return to the spot again and again to try to find her mother, but to no avail. For the first few weeks DSB co-founder Marina Melis bottle feeds her, getting out of bed at least four times a night to make sure she isn’t hungry. Marina names the foal after her own mother, Maroesja.
Maroesja’s story is not new for the staff at DSB, but thanks to new Donkey Crossing signs funded by The Donkey Sanctuary UK it is becoming more uncommon. The signs, erected throughout the island by DSB, are helping save the lives of both people and donkeys across the island.
Donkeys have been an intrinsic part of Bonaire for generations. Believed to have been brought to work in the salt trade by the Spanish in the 1500s, their role in society has changed as technology advanced and their use as working animals diminished. As a result many became feral.
Sadly, feral donkeys often come into conflict with humans, particularly on the roads as the number of scooters and cars increases. As the only donkey welfare organisation on the island, DSB is always on callout when accidents occur.
“Donkeys suffer internal injuries or broken legs or a broken back,” Marina says. “Cars drive very fast here, that’s why we are warning them with the Donkey Crossing signs donated by The Donkey Sanctuary UK.”
It isn’t just the injured animals which suffer, as many foals are left orphaned. Like Maroesja, Marina takes them into her Sanctuary and bottle feeds them herself every two hours by day or night until they are weaned. Whenever possible, mares are brought in with their foals.
While some local people see the donkeys as an important piece of cultural heritage, others complain that they damage property and contribute to overgrazing and damage to the environment. Feral donkeys face other problems too; they can get tetanus from stepping on rusty nails and the arid climate can lead to starvation and dehydration in the dry season.
Feral donkeys are becoming a challenging issue in many parts of the world and finding a solution to the problem is not simple.
However in Bonaire, the work of DSB is making a difference. Traffic accidents involving donkeys have fallen from 65 in 2012 to 20 in 2014, with only eight reported so far this year.
For Marina and her husband Ed Koopman, both Dutch nationals, running the sanctuary is much more than a full-time job. The signs show, however, that their tireless efforts are making a positive difference to the lives of Bonaire’s donkeys. Maroesja’s recovery is testament to that. The nerves in her shoulder are damaged so she still can’t lift her leg, but she is getting stronger and DSB staff hope one day she will be reunited with her mother.