Is This The World’s Most Sustainable Village?

Picture a human female nursing a stray doe with her own breast milk. When I first saw this video in a BBC documentary, I was speechless. It was filmed in a village in Rajasthan, India that I had never heard of before. The lady’s husband found a baby deer who went astray, brought it home, and took care of it until it was ready to go out into the wild again. The documentary showed the close quarters humans and animals share and the loving relationship they have with one another in this village.

My tour group to India in March 2016 and I went to witness this firsthand. We hired a jeep that took us on a half day safari through the Bishnoi community near Jodhpur, gateway city to India’s desert.

bishnoi village

At first glance, we saw nothing unusual. Thatched huts, modest brick homes, dirt roads, open grasslands, cows, farms, etc. School kids waived at us as we drove past. They screamed out all the English words they knew, “Hello, dollar, pencil, I love you, bye!” We passed by the little one story building that was their school. Then we saw wild camels grazing in the field next door. A few deer and antelopes. More cows and buffalos.

Bishnoi is a religious group found in the Western Thar Desert of India, and areas of Punjab, and Sindh in Pakistan. Founder of the religion, Guru Jambheshwar gave the message to protect trees and wildlife around 540 years ago, prophesying that harming the environment means harming yourself. He formulated twenty nine tenets. The tenets were not only tailored to conserve bio-diversity of the area but also ensured a healthy eco-friendly social life for the community.bishnoi village india

It turns out one of the tenets includes providing protection to all animals. Which means that the Bishnoi people allow their agricultural crops to be grazed on by wild animals and predators, only to gather what is left for themselves. This is hard to imaging because the area is dry, people are poor, and there is not much food to go around anyway.

Black bucks migrate from far off lands to the lake in this area, where they are provided ample food and protection against hunting.

black bucks in bishnoi

They are also strictly vegetarian and do not allow the killing of animals. They go to the length of removing each ant or bug from firewood before using it for consumption.

Bison are also known as tree huggers due to an incident that happened in 1730. A local lady, Amrita Devi protested against the Maharaja to not cut trees in the area. 363 villagers died while protecting nature. They do not wear blue clothing as a large quantity of plants are harvested to make blue color dye.

carpet weaver in bishnoi village

During our visit, we stopped at the homes of a potter and carpet weaver to learn about local arts and crafts. Then we ate lunch at the home of Mr. Tulsiram, a Bishnoi villager. We welcomed us to his mud house with warm hospitality. We sat on woven beds and enjoyed a simple yet delicious meal of bajre ki roti (millet bread), daal (lentils), and ker sangri (capers and greens).lunch in bishnoi village Tulsiram encourage me to eat more as he commented, “The only thing I bought for this meal was salt.” Like most people in the village, he grows everything he needs, including oils and spices. Though he doesn’t have much in terms of materialistic things, he is living a very sustainable and fulfilling life. Tulsiram in bishnoi village

29 Rules of Bishnoi Faith

(source: Wikipedia)

  1. Observe 30 days’ state of untouchability after child’s birth
  2. Observe 5 days’ segregation while a woman is in her menses
  3. Bath early morning
  4. Obey the ideal rules of life: Modesty
  5. Obey the ideal rules of life: Patience or satisfactions
  6. Obey the ideal rules of life: Purifications
  7. Perform Sandhya two times a day
  8. Eulogise their God, Vishnu, in evening hours (Aarti)
  9. Perform Yajna (Havan) every morning
  10. Filter water, milk and firewood
  11. Speak pure words in all sincerity
  12. Adopt the rule of forgiveness and pity
  13. Don’t steal and not keep any intention to do it also
  14. Do not condemn or criticize
  15. Don’t lie
  16. Don’t waste the time on argument
  17. Fast on Amavashya and offer prayers to Vishnu
  18. Have pity on all living beings and love them
  19. Do not cut green trees, save the environment
  20. Crush lust, anger, greed and attachment
  21. Accept food and water from our purified people only
  22. Provide a common shelter for male goat/sheep to avoid them being slaughtered in abattoirs
  23. Don’t sterilise ox
  24. Don’t use opium
  25. Don’t take smoke and use tobacco
  26. Don’t take bhang or hemp
  27. Don’t take wine or any type of liquor
  28. Don’t eat meat, remain always pure vegetarian
  29. Never use blue clothe

Rescuing the Island’s Donkeys

Donkeys are not native to the island of Bonaire. They were brought here by the Spanish in the 17th century to be used as modes of transportation and for hard labor.

Today, there is not practical use for the feral donkeys. They walk around freely and unfortunately are victims of motor accidents, dehydration and hunger.

It was about time someone stepped in and took care of these friendly animals. In 1993 Dutch Nationals, Marina Melis and her husband Ed Koopman, established a donkey sanctuary on Bonaire for sick, wounded and orphaned donkeys: Donkey Sanctuary Bonaire.

donkey sanctuary

The Donkey Sanctuary Bonaire provides a sheltered, protected life to over 400 donkeys in Bonaire. It is open to tourists, schools and community members who want to know more about donkeys, have a fun day sightseeing, or want to volunteer.

Walking into the sanctuary grounds, you can see Marina or one of her volunteers addressing the needs of the residents with food, water and medical care. She was bandaging a broken leg of a 4 months old pup during my visit. The baby would be given physical therapy so he walks on 4 legs and kept in a secluded area (with a donkey doll) for few hours each day to rest.

She shows me a separate pen where mothers and foals can stay together, so they don’t feel threatened. The orphans are raised with a baby bottle, till they can eat themselves. There is also an elderly pen for the donkeys who take time to eat and might not otherwise be able to get to their food.

donkey old home

Visitors can drive through the sanctuary in their vehicle (very slowly to avoid accidents) and be greeted by hundreds of donkeys. They come to the cars, sniff your belonging, give you kisses, and rub against your door. The donkeys here are not afraid of humans as they have become accustomed to love and friendship.

donkey kisses

There is a viewing tower where one can get off and climb a few steps to get a nice look at the sanctuary grounds. With wild shrubs and barren lands, this map feel like the serenity. Bring your binoculars so you can see a sole donkey taking a nap in one of the shelters, or playing with her baby under a tree.

donkey serengeti

On the way out, visit the rescued iguanas and turtles too. The Donkey Sanctuary Bonaire is a small nonprofit that runs independently. Here are some ways to get involved:

Adopt a donkey

For US$175 per year you can adopt a donkey. You receive an adoption certificate and a photo of your donkey that, of course, continues to live with us at the sanctuary. Periodically, you will receive from us news about your donkey and you will be kept informed about our activities. We hope you will find many opportunities to visit your donkey!

Donate

From just US$ 50 per year you can become a donor and help enormously with the care of the donkeys. Direct donations toward feed, water, medicine is possible too.

volunteer at donkey sanctuary

Volunteer

The sanctuary is run entirely by volunteers and long term internship and volunteer programs are possible. Help with cleaning, feeding, management, gift shop, etc. Marina prefers a minimum 6 weeks commitment as the donkeys take some time to form human attachment.

Donkey Sanctuary Bonaire is open for visitors daily from 10.00 until 17.00 hours. Tours by car, scooter, bike, or on foot. The entrance fee is US $7 for adults. Children up to 12 years only pay US $3.50. Adopters receive free entrance for 2 persons from their family.