Visit Some of the Caribbean's Most Unique Residents at the Aruba Donkey Sanctuary
By Justin Burch
Just as the European colonizers brought many non-native plants to the Caribbean, donkeys were transported from Spain to provide transportation and serve in new industries. The passive, loyal animals were used in Aruba for centuries until automobiles were introduced in the 20th century. Though some locals continued using donkeys throughout the 1900s, many of the animals were callously discarded to roam free across the island. For decades, several herds of donkeys survived in the wild until much of the population was plagued by disease in the 1970s. With only 20 wild donkeys remaining, volunteers stepped in and began developing programs to aid these unique residents and preserve the population for future generations. However, in recent decades, the revitalized donkey population has been plagued by new threats, including a growing population on the island and a rapidly-expanding tourism industry. While Aruba's tourism industry certainly allowed the local economy to flourish and brought many exciting advancements to the island, the donkey population fell victim to more accidents and encroachment upon their adopted habitat. Yet, just as volunteers stepped in after many of the donkeys fell ill in the 1970s, a new organization was developed in the 1990s to offer the donkeys a safe home.
Founded in 1997, the Aruba Donkey Sanctuary has now provided much-needed care to local donkeys for over a decade. In addition to providing a safe home for adult donkeys, this popular non-profit organization has also been active in supporting a new generation of donkeys, allowing locals and tourists alike an opportunity to interact with these passive animals for years to come. A close-knit family of 90 donkeys shares the facility's "Curucu di Burico" - the Donkey Field - where visitors can feed and pet many of the animals from the enclosed patio. In the early morning hours, visiting children are also granted an opportunity to work behind the scenes with the volunteer staff, feeding and grooming the animals. Admission to the Aruba Donkey Sanctuary is free for all ages, as the non-profit facility relies solely on donations and funds generated from local donkey adoption programs.
As donkeys are incredibly resilient animals and require very little to survive in the wild, there are still families of wild donkeys roaming the island outside of the Aruba Donkey Sanctuary. Though there are still far fewer donkeys in Aruba than the 1,400 counted at the beginning of the 20th century, the Aruba Donkey Sanctuary has helped to the wild donkey population climb above 100 once again. Nearly all of the wild donkeys in Aruba travel in groups, including the largest families of 9 and 11 animals that roam the natural areas near the sanctuary. While these groups of donkeys are often spotted near the Natural Bridge and the Tunnel of Love Cave - two popular natural attractions on the northern side of the island - those interested in seeing these animals in the wild can get more information regarding their recent whereabouts from the Aruba Donkey Sanctuary.
The Aruba Donkey Sanctuary is easy to reach from Oranjestad and other resort areas as the facility rests near a number of popular outdoor destinations. Following the northern road to the Natural Bridge, visitors will see several large signs near the Ayo Rock Formations that provide easy directions to the Aruba Donkey Sanctuary. Travelers that want to experience some of Aruba's popular destinations as part of a guided tour will also have a chance to see the Aruba Donkey Sanctuary, as most operators visit the facility when touring the northern end of the island. The Aruba Donkey Sanctuary is open to visitors on weekdays from 9 AM to 12:30 PM and on weekends from 10 AM to 3 PM.
Though Aruba's donkeys initially seemed forgotten amongst the island's expansive tourism plans, the Aruba Donkey Sanctuary now provides the perfect balance of preservation and one-of-a-kind sightseeing. As crowds of visitors from throughout the world pass through the Aruba Donkey Sanctuary each year and help support the organization's programs, the centuries-old donkey population has, in fact, become one of the great triumphs of the island's tourism industry. When touring the picturesque north end of the island, families can revel in this unique history by paying a visit to the animals that silently helped make Aruba what it is today.
Justin Burch writes articles about travel for the Marriott Resorts.
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Views expressed in the article are those of the author and are not necessarily the opinions of CaribbeanChoice, its staff or members.