A Sanctuary for the Lovable and Threatened Donkeys of Split, Croatia

In a pine-shaded park overlooking the sea in Split, Croatia, a fuzzy donkey emerges among a cluster of joggers, dog-walkers, and families.

The passersby stop and smile, delighted to encounter such a creature in Croatia’s second-largest city. Some people snap photos of the grey donkey with their phones. A father and his young son ask the animal’s handler if they can stroke the animal’s muzzle. Eventually, the donkey wanders off, searching for the ideal patch of greenery to nibble upon. She seems content when she finds a grazing place. It has commanding views of the sparkling Adriatic Sea and neighboring islands.

With a short attention span, the donkey trots off again, stopping next to an abandoned phone booth. Seemingly unrelated at first, the juxtaposition of the two is symbolic in that both animal and booth were once considered essential in daily life. Today, in most parts of the world, they’ve both been rendered obsolete by technology.

Not long ago, donkeys were commonplace in the Mediterranean — beasts of burden that sometimes carried weight greater than their own. They toted water and food and helped to mill grain. But today, because of new forms of transport, the animals’ numbers have shrunk dramatically. By some accounts they are approaching extinction in their native environments.

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Photo du Jour: The Santorini Donkey

 

A donkey, decked out in colorful beads and an evil-eye amulet, awaits the day’s passengers on the stairs leading up to the village of Fira, on the island of Santorini. When visitors arrive to Santorini’s Old Port via cruise ship or boat, they have three ways to make it up to the town of Fira: climb the almost 600 stairs, ride a donkey (5 €  one way), or ride the cable car  (4 € one way). Riding a donkey is controversial – animal rights organizations and some visitors say it is cruel, whereas the local government assures visitors, via signs posted at the port, that the animals are well-cared-for by veterinarians and offered regular periods of rest.

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A Nibbling Donkey in Oberammergau, Germany

The sign declared, Bitte Esel nicht füttern, and in Germany, the land so famously-known for its rules, I obliged. 

Even though visitors to the Christmas Market in Oberammergau, Germany were asked not to feed the photogenic donkeys (to keep the live Christmas props from developing upset stomachs), rubbing of the animals’ cotton ball-like ears seemed to be encouraged. Before I approached the stable, I had even noticed that Saint Nicholas was giving the cuddly beasts a head massage.

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