Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Donkey Love In St. Helena

Hopalong, Ley, Greedy and Neil, Out For A Stroll
Traveling the island we spotted several paddocks where donkeys grazed. These lovely creatures are descendants of the working animals that carried produce, crops and goods all over the island before powered vehicles became popular here.
Ley & Hopalong - Image By Dianne Selkirk

Flax was a major export product here until about 40 years ago, and the donkeys carried the flax from the fields to the mills over very steep terrain.

Many survived here as lonely "pets", semi abandoned on rural blocks, until a new community group decided to take action and rescue those that were most in need.

So the St. Helena Donkey Sanctuary was born, supported by locals and expat visitors alike. Land was donated, even the local government chipped in a little funding, and slowly animals were handed over to the group and their life improved.

Vetinary care was provided, hooves were healed and their health came back. The animals were gradually socialised and began to play a role in local life again.
Children from local schools visit the sanctuary, along with tourists, like Ley and I.

Every Saturday morning the sanctuary invites visitors to walk the donkeys, who are brought in from the fields, fitted with halters and leads in preparation.

With a group of friends Ley and I took part in this delightful walk, leading a four legged friend from the sanctuary yard along local roads for several kilometers. The main walk was along a spectacular ridge line to a rural church, with views across the island to the ocean both north and south of us.

Ley was paired with "Hopalong", so named because of a deformed front off-side foot that looked pretty sad but didn't stop him keeping up on the walk. It also didn't stop him leading Ley in the wrong direction whenever he spotted something of interest along the road. As she says, horses (and donkeys) just look at her and decide who the boss is - they are!

I was leading "Greedy", a gracious 30 year old lady who is the last remaining animal that carried flax as a working donkey. Greedy came to the sanctuary in a terrible state, almost completely bald, bleeding from fly blown sores and tick bites. The sanctuary team have brough her health back, and she is in fine condition now - specially given her age.  What stories she could tell...

Donkey Love - They're Not Stupid, Just Stubborn!
OK, so she doesn't like to walk real fast, happy to doddle along at the back of the pack, but she and Hopalong made a happy pair, completing their regular Saturday excursion at their own leisurely pace. Ley and I were also both pretty happy with that.

Following the walk the animals are brushed down, their hooves are cleaned and treated, and lotions and creams applied to stop flies and parasites. The stronger animals are being trained to carry saddles and young riders. They seem proud of their role, stepping out quite happily with (very) nice leather saddles that were shipped in from South Africa with funding from local government here. The original saddles were crude wooden affairs that also carried loads of flax - not good for the back at all.

After our donkey walk we had a picnic in the sunshine, high on the ridge line, contemplating the very happy outcome for these lovely creatures. Tourism in St. Helena is nothing if not quirky!

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