This month the Aruban Donkey Sanctuary celebrates its fifteenth anniversary. In 1997 a few volunteers started catching and sheltering roaming donkeys. At first there were just 10 donkeys; by now there are 120 animals, who find a home at the sanctuary. Roaming donkeys are a hazard for the busy roads with heavy traffic and vice versa. The donkeys belong to the Aruban landscape, however, and they have become a tourist attraction: more than 25,000 visitors cross the gates of the sanctuary every year. There are still some 70 roaming donkeys left – still causing accidents.
the sanctuary cannot do much for these donkeys; there is just no more space to take care of them. Since 2006 the foundation has been waiting for the conveyance of a terrain in Bringamosa and its surrounding area, so that a large area would become available for the donkeys. It is an ideal location, close to Arikok National Park, and thus a welcome addition for touristi purposes. However, before the papers are signed, the sanctuary cannot invest in permanent fences and buildings. We have begun building on a small scale, but that is risky: should the conveyance be cancelled, then our investment is gone. Therefore just the bare necessities have been constructed, such as water troughs, a few fences and overhangs to provide shade for the donkeys that have been stationed at Bringamosa.
Summing up: for six years the volunteers have been waiting for DIP (Dienst Infrastructuur en Planning) to come up with a `statement of conveyance’ so that they would be able to continue to invest in this new sanctuary where more donkeys can be sheltered.
The move to Bringamosa would be a win-win situation, as fewer roaming donkeys would cause accidents and the visitors to the island can enjoy a more complete and more attractive nature reserve. At this time tour operators like ABC-Tours and De Palm Tours offer tours to their clients in which the sanctuary is a true tourist attraction. Let us be careful with this, as the island does not have an abundance of attractions to offer besides our beaches.
To be able to manage the sanctuary with its 45 volunteers, a full-time professional is a necessity. That is why Cede Aruba subsidized an annual salary for a coordinator in 2011, hoping that the foundation would have time enough to come to a financial agreement with the government. However, one year has gone by and no agreement has been reached. Starting in February 2011 we have tried in vain to make appointments with the minister in charge and with our Prime Minister. Our financial situation is now getting dire: the foundation is paying our coordinator from donation money and our means are getting depleted. This would result in closing the shelter off to visitors, which would lead to closing the shelter altogether, as a large part of our income comes from visitors. Then where would all 120 donkeys be? Hopefully it will never come to that.
Time to act
It is understandable that in this situation we cannot celebrate our anniversary in a big way. Because of the fact that the government has other priorities, one of the island’s most uniquel attractions is on the verge of a disaster. The sanctuary is a place where donkeys are sheltered and where young and old can come to enjoy themselves; it is also a place that urgently needs help from the government. We can be proud of our sanctuary – we can be proud because we take good care of our animals and we can be proud because we are a much-appreciated tourist attraction. Aruba’s national heritage should be protected. That is why the foundation that supervises the Aruban Donkey Sanctuary urges that a meeting with the ministers of our government will take place at an early date.