Aruban Sanctuary Provides Safe Haven for Donkeys

On an island known for its white sandy beaches and trade winds perfect for water sports, there is small area off the beaten path dedicated to rescued donkeys.

Article previously published on NBC

These playful animals are not native to Aruba. The Spaniards brought them to the island 500 years ago from North Africa. The donkeys provided the primary mode of transportation until cars began to take over. When Arubans no longer needed them, the donkeys were let go to roam in the wild. Some were sent to the circus to be fed to hungry tigers. Today, along with goats, dogs and cats, visitors can see donkeys roaming the hills among the cactus trees in the arid Caribbean Island.

With the increase in tourism and development, it is common to see donkeys injured or killed alongside the roads. Increase in vehicles sadly created a hazard for both humans and the donkeys. Some of these donkeys were even intentionally harmed.

In 1997, two local islanders, Ramon Boekhoudt and Mervine Kock, gathered a group of supporters and decided to open a sanctuary to save the donkeys of Aruba. Today, a safe haven exists for the neglected and formerly domestic donkeys at the Donkey Sanctuary. Located along a dusty road not far from the Arikok National Park, the sanctuary is a haven for the rescued and rehabilitated donkeys of Aruba.

The minute visitors enter the sanctuary, the friendly animals come to say hello with their distinctive braying calls. There are 120 donkeys at two locations of the sanctuary. They hang out in groups, roam freely within the boundaries of the refuge and have no worries in the world.

Donkeys are capable of surviving in the wild, but need our help. Very often the sanctuary gets calls from locals informing the volunteers about an injured or lost donkey wandering onto someone’s backyard.

At this all-volunteer run sanctuary, special care is provided to the donkeys. Each donkey has a name that all caretakers know them by. They receive food, water, medical care, and of course plenty of love and attention.

During my visit, I was fortunate enough to meet a new mom and her baby. The sanctuary doesn’t breed donkeys, but every once in a while a wild donkey jumps the fence and gets a female pregnant. “We took the male donkey and castrated him so this won’t happen again,” said a volunteer caretaker.

The donkeys of Aruba are heavily inbred. A typical donkey has a gray with a black stripe running along its back from its ears to its tail with a crossing at the shoulders, but a clear sign of inbreeding is a lack of the markings.

The little baby donkey named Chula and her mom Coco were kept in a separate enclosure. They are separated from the herd until the baby is big enough to fend for herself. Chula, the baby, is just like a dog, with a lot of fur. She loves getting petted and spending time with her mom.

Baby Chula feeds from mom Coco
Baby Chula feeds from mom Coco

Visiting the sanctuary is a must for every animal lover spending time in Aruba. The sanctuary provides a fun environment for folks of all ages to interact with the donkeys. Feel free to bring apples and carrots to feed the sanctuary’s inhabitants, and watch out for the sneaky ones that try to nibble at your toes.

A comfortable stop for a snack and refreshment and an opportunity to buy original, donkey-themed gifts and souvenirs is also located on site. The sanctuary hosts school groups to increase awareness about these sweet-natured animals and prevent ill-treatment.

The Donkey Sanctuary also has an adoption program that helps pay for the costs of caring for Aruba’s endangered donkeys. Anyone can “adopt” one of the animals at the sanctuary for $200 a year to help provide it food and medical care. For $30 per year, you can become a member of the “Friends of the Aruban Donkeys” club and $50 gets you a super membership with a T-shirt.

Make sure to visit the Donkey Sanctuary of Aruba on your next visit!

There is no fee to enter the donkey refuge, but donations are always welcome. For more information on the sanctuary, visit, or contact Desiree Eldering at +297-593-2933 or The sanctuary is open on weekdays from 9 – 4 PM and in the weekends from 10 – 3 PM.

Published by Lavanya

Lavanya Sunkara is a writer, animal lover, and globetrotter based in New York City. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Travel + Leisure, Architectural Digest, Fodor’s, Forbes, USA Today and many more in a career spanning ten years. She covers travel, eco-lifestyle, culture, pets, and wildlife conservation.

One thought on “Aruban Sanctuary Provides Safe Haven for Donkeys

  1. Today, I went to the beach front with my children. I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She placed the shell to
    her ear and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear.
    She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is entirely
    off topic but I had to tell someone!

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