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Donkeys on Bonaire

Donkeys have been living on Bonaire for hundreds of years. The animals were originally brought over by the Spaniards in the 17th century and used to perform hard labour. Once modern transport made these animals superfluous to requirements they were left to their lot. Unfortunately the donkeys did not fare well with their new-found freedom.

Since Bonaire is a dry and barren island, many donkeys die of hunger or from dehydration. Traffic presents the greatest danger. Donkeys are either killed or left badly wounded and dying along the roadside. Foals that lose their mothers are left helpless, vulnerable and as good as dead.


Furthermore, the donkeys on Bonaire are regularly the victims of abuse, the examples of which are distressing: a foal stoned to death, a donkey with its ears cut off and even a donkey burned alive.

For a long time no organised help was available to these poor animals.

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Latin: Equus Asinus 

Dutch: Ezel

Papiamentu: Buriku

Body length: 200 cm / 6.6 ft.

Shoulder height: 125-145 cm / 4.2-5.5 ft.

Tail length: 42 cm / 17 in.

Weight: 175 kg - 250 kg / 385 lb - 550 lb

Diet: grasses, bark and leaves

Gestation period: 11-13 months

Young per birth: 1

Life cycle weaning: at 6-8 months

Sexual maturity: mares 24 months / stallions 8 months

Life span: up to 40 years

The short, smooth coat is a light grey to fawn colour, fading quickly to white on the undersides and legs. There is a slender, dark dorsal stripe in all subspecies, while in the Nubian wild ass (Equus asinus africanus), as well as the domestic donkey, there is a stripe across the shoulder. On the nape of the neck there is a stiff, upright mane, the hairs ofwhich are tipped with black. The ears are large with black margins. The tail terminates with a black brush. The hooves are slender, approximately the diameter of the legs. When a foal is born it already has al its molars. The upper and lower front teeth appear within 7 days after its birth.

Donkeys on Bonaire are primarily active in the cooler hours between late afternoon and early morning, seeking shade and shelter amongst the scrub during the day. Swift and sure-footed in their rough, rocky habitat, the donkey can travel as fast as 50 kmph / 30 mph. Donkeys live in herds from up to 20 donkeys that generally exist out of one stallion and 7 to 8 mares. Mature stallions defend large territories around 23 square kilometers in size, marking them with dung heaps - an essential marker in the flat, monotonous terrain.

Due to the size of these ranges, the dominant male cannot exclude other males. Rather, intruders are tolerated - recognized and treated as subordinates, and kept as far away as possible from any of the resident females. In the presence of estrous females the stallions bray loudly.

Despite being primarily adapted for living in an arid climate, wild asses are dependent on water, and when not receiving the needed moisture from vegetation they must drink at least once every three days. However, they can survive on a surprisingly small amount of liquid, and have been known to drink salty or brackish water.

One interesting behavior we have noted on Bonaire, is that dogs correctly fear donkeys. One way locals protect their ranch animals is to also have several donkeys to keep any stray dogs away.

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