Saving the Spanish donkey

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Information about Saving the Spanish donkey

Published on February 17, 2014

Author: allytrust3

Source: slideshare.net

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In popular culture the humble donkey is as emblematic of Spain as a bull or a flamenco dancer. From the sublime little fat Sancho Panza riding alongside Don Quijote, to the ridiculous straw donkeys sold in tourist shops, this beast of burden has become folkloric in its symbolisation of all that is Spanish. So it is shocking to learn that of the six species native to Spain every single one is in danger of extinction. The Córdoban is the largest and there are less than 100 pure bred ones remaining.

The working donkey or mule (the offspring of a mare and donkey) is an increasingly rare sight in Spain, although it is still seen in parts of rural Andalucía and Galicia. At the end of the civil war (1939) there were an estimated 1,250,000 donkeys in the country but the figure is now down to just 65,000.

In popular culture the humble donkey is as emblematic of Spain as a bull or a flamenco dancer. From the sublime little fat Sancho Panza riding alongside Don Quijote, to the ridiculous straw donkeys sold in tourist shops, this beast of burden has become folkloric in its symbolisation of all that is Spanish. So it is shocking to learn that of the six species native to Spain every single one is in danger of extinction. The Córdoban is the largest and there are less than 100 pure bred ones remaining. The working donkey or mule (the offspring of a mare and donkey) is an increasingly rare sight in Spain, although it is still seen in parts of rural Andalucía and Galicia. At the end of the civil war (1939) there were an estimated 1,250,000 donkeys in the country but the figure is now down to just 65,000. Intelligent, cautious, friendly, playful, and eager to learn, they have been used since before recorded history to carry loads, pull carts and take riders. Donkeys have a reputation for stubbornness but studies now show that this is in fact a highly developed sense of self preservation. It is almost impossible to force a donkey into doing something that is against its best interests. A horse, for example will walk along a path where the

footing is unsafe; a donkey will not. Though slower than horses they live longer and are cheaper to keep. Their great endurance and agility has made them popular work animals and in many developing countries they are still of vital economic importance. Donkeys were among the pack animals used to carry silk from the Pacific Ocean to the Mediterranean along the 'Silk Road' in return for trade goods. The overland route was approximately 6,400 kilometres and the journey lasted several years. Because of the length of the expedition, no single animal completed the entire journey and mixing of breeds occurred as unplanned matings occurred en-route. The journey ended in Greece, Italy, the Middle East and Alexandria in Egypt. The Greeks were delighted with the donkeys, which were found to be ideal animals for working on the narrow paths between the vines. Their use in vineyards spread through the Mediterranean countries to Spain where they quickly also became the principle means of transport for people and goods. Their surefootedness and fortitude made them the ideal animal for Spain’s inhospitable terrain. From the departure of the Romans to the turn of the last century few roads were built in Spain and even the main routes were in a poor state. Donkey trains over precarious, muddy and rocky tracks were the mainstay of the avenues between cities, towns and villages. They laboured on building sites,

were taken to battlefields to carry supplies and drag guns for the army, they turned mills and having worked the land they carried the produce to market. But apart from some rural areas in Spain this ubiquitous symbol of toil has all but disappeared and its decline has been caused mainly by the mechanisation of agriculture and the gradual abandonment of the rural way of life. Young people are seduced by towns and cities and the way of life that continued right up until the 1960s has rapidly waned. Although to northern Europeans the donkey is looked upon as not only cuddly but worthy of our respect, the Spanish are not nearly so sentimental. The donkey has traditionally been an object of scorn in folklore and there are countless Spanish phrases that define the burro as a slow, stupid and stubborn animal. Modern Spanish dictionaries give a second definition of burro as: ‘idiot’, ‘oaf’, ‘stupid’. Despite the fact that the cross on the donkey’s back is supposed to be a holy mark in recognition of a donkey carrying Jesus into Nazareth you get the feeling that the beast hasn’t quite been forgiven by fiercely Catholic Spain for delivering the Saviour to his fate. Where donkeys are still used as working animals their treatment can give cause for concern and the older animals are frequently turned out to fend for themselves. Over the last decade, sanctuaries have been opened in Spain to preserve and rescue breeds that are in danger of extinction. As you might expect where animals are concerned, the British are keen to help, with popular registered charity the Donkey Sanctuary opening its first European sanctuary in Spain, near Malaga. El Refugio del Burrito aims to provide permanent refuge to any donkey or mule in need of sanctuary. The replacement of traditional working donkeys with machinery resulted in the abandonment of many donkeys that had already been neglected. Latest figures suggest there are around 140,000 donkeys and mules in Spain. Run by Director of European Operations, Paul Svendsen, the son of Dr Elisabeth Svendsen who founded the

Donkey Sanctuary in 1969 who has been encouraged by the good response from the Spanish authorities and believes it is the right time to start working in Spain. "I believe animal welfare in Spain is beginning to improve. We saw legislation introduced in 2003 enforcing the protection of animals used during festivals in the region of Extremadura. With El Refugio Del Burrito registered as a Spanish association we can now lobby for further improvements in legislation for donkeys and mules throughout the country.” The Sanctuary’s most famous rescue was ‘Blackie’ a donkey that was earmarked to take part in the "Pero Palo" Fiesta in Extremadura’s Villa Nueva de la Vera on Shrove Tuesday when the animal is jostled and dragged through the village by a partially drunken crowd. Fed alcohol and sat on by the heaviest man in the village the animal usually collapses and dies. Blackie was taken to the Sanctuary in Devon to end her years and Extremadura banned the fiesta. El Refugio is particularly keen to preserve the Andalucian Giant Donkey, one of the most ancient breeds of European donkeys with Jacks (males) reaching as high as 16 hands (1.6m), which is as tall as a large horse. These are pure breed donkeys, not mules but a recent study suggests that there are as few as 120 of these amazing giants left making them a seriously endangered indigenous species. Traditionally these giant donkeys have always been found in Southern Spain, where formerly they were used extensively by the military, to cross breed with horses, producing a very strong mule, well suited to carrying munitions and provisions. They have been almost totally replaced in both these areas of work by mechanisation.

Because of this mechanisation, these donkeys become a liability and together with many other donkeys of pure and cross breeds, are often collected together by dealers and shipped, under often quite horrendous conditions, with few stops and little water and food, to other European countries, where they are slaughtered and may be used as a prized ingredient in some salamis. They were also employed in the cork forests, olive and citrus groves, and carrying out almost any heavy work, including ploughing, pulling carts and for riding In 1989 PascualRovira set up the ‘Asociaciónpara la Defensa del Borrico’ (ADEBO) in the little town of Rute, in the heart of the lovely Parque de la Sierra sub-Bética His efforts to publicise the plight of the donkey have already gone a long way towards putting Rute on the map. Pascual has donated donkeys as gifts to the Spanish royal family and even to Bill Clinton to raise awareness about the animals. More than a hundred donkeys have been rescued from all over Spain and there are representatives of most of the national breeds.

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