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