Caribbean Animal Rescues and Social Media
When most people think of the Caribbean they think of gorgeous beaches, soft sand between their toes, and swaying palm trees. However, for any animal lover that actually leaves the resort, the reality is that it is a living hell for the creatures that live on most of the islands. Having lived on and visited a few of the islands I can attest to the rampant cruelty and neglect extant on the islands of Curacao, Bonaire, and Aruba.
There is hope however, several charitable organisations have cropped up in the last 10 years to try to mitigate the suffering of the animals. Whereas before the “Asiels” (shelters) were mainly a place to take unwanted, captured, sick or hurt animals to be euthanised, new management has started to take a more proactive role in animal welfare, with educational activities, a rescue van for transport, a dedicated police person to intervene when necessary, and veterinary services. While euthanasia is still a service that needs to be provided due to the extreme numbers of unwanted animals on the islands, they are starting to take a greater role in the prevention of cruelty to animals. Unfortunately, donkeys were not in their mandate.
Consequently, one of the earliest “rescue” operations to crop up to fill this need is the Donkey Sanctuary Bonaire https://www.donkeysanctuary.org/. Bonaire is a very small island only 40 kilometres long and about 5 to 12 kilometres wide with an area of 288 km2. It is one of those strange places where abject poverty sits right next to extravagant wealth. In 1993, a Dutch woman, Marina Melis and her husband Ed Koopman started a donkey sanctuary. When the donkeys that were originally brought to the island as work animals were abandoned for gas-powered technologies, they were left to run feral in an environment they were not native to, and where they bred and were left to suffer horrendous abuse, be killed or injured in road traffic accidents, suffer from infectious illnesses such as tetanus, and to die of dehydration and starvation ( the island is a desert).
If the sanctuary was left to only obtain money to support the operation from locals it would have been doomed to failure. Initially, tourists were invited to tour the sanctuary and donate since “westerners” (North Western Europeans and North Americans) have a more charitable view towards supporting animals and the disposable incomes available to do so.
However, with currently over 700 donkeys in the sanctuary (can you imagine on an island of only 288 square kilometres and hardly any forage!) the costs are prohibitive.
Social media to the rescue. The sanctuary created a website that has proven effective in not only publicising the plight of the island’s donkeys but creating an adoption programme and eliciting donations from all over the world. Against the misguided idea that the “wild donkeys” (actually a feral invasive species) need to be protected as part of the “culture,” the sanctuary provides a safe place where imported forage bought with donated funds and veterinary care and medicines sustains the donkeys it rescues.