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Donkey therapy

The donkey, burro, ezel, asno, asino, ane, esel, asna, donkie.….this gentle long-eared creature has been mistreated and misunderstood for too long over the centuries throughout the world. But for those living at the Eseltjierus Donkey Sanctuary near McGregor in the Western Cape (South Africa), the bad days are behind them and Life is good.

Last weekend I visited Eseltjiesrus and met with the founder Johan van Zijl, a former psychologist who established the haven with his wife, officially opening it to the public in 2007. They have a dedicated team of volunteers working with them and David Kramer is the Patron.

Since the first two donkeys arrived many years ago, Vaal and Japie, they’ve taken in many more retired, destitute, elderly and abused donkeys from all over the region and further afield, working together with the SPCA, the police and Cart Horse Association.

Chatting to Johan, I learnt first hand about his journey into establishing the spacious 10 hectare farm, a much needed permanent refuge for the donkeys that also has a little restaurant, a shop with donkey-themed souvenirs, their own brand of wine and a small 2nd hand bookshop. Their annual fundraising book fair in McGregor is a must on the cultural calendar of Robertson and surrounds.

What was wonderful for me was the chance to get up close and personal with the donkeys who come from various parts of the Western Cape, each with a story to tell, usually very sad. Ziggy, Alice, Thabo, Eeyore the oldest, and sweet Amy amongst others. My experience with her was very special- so affectionate, nudging and pressing against me for attention and a rub behind the ears. Give me any opportunity to connect with an animal and I'm so there. It is food for my soul.

A key focus of the Van Zijl’s is education via workshops in various towns like Mamre, McGregor and Genadendal. School groups, including children from schools for the deaf, blind and autistic, regularly visit the sanctuary. “It’s therapeutic for the children, the donkeys and for everyone else”, says Johan. There’s even a resource pack available for educators and learners to use, produced in conjunction with the Western Cape Education Department. “We encourage children to develop respect for donkeys, as well as for themselves, and their dogs and cats”, he added. “Donkeys are at times seen as objects of ridicule, without any champions, and we want to raise their profile.”

It is said that a donkey teaches you that humility is a strength, not a weakness. They’re actually cleverer than horses…the expression ‘don’t be a smart ass’ has to mean something right? Just look into a donkey's eyes and you'll see for yourself that it is a special and intelligent animal.

Visit the Donkey Sanctuary and consider doing a virtual adoption to add your support to the project. Tel +27 (0)23 625 1593


Profile photo of Allison Foat

A former ballerina, I am now a Cape Town based publicist specialising in the entertainment industry. One of my major passions is travel, in my city & around the world, keeping an eye on ethical tourism as I go. Explore more. That's all.

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