BROUHAHA ABOUT DONKEYS

I often refer to what I call the Urban Herd, a term loosely used to cover the numerous head of cattle that wander through the suburbs of our town to graze in open parks, on unmown grass verges as well as browsing the street trees. Woe betide you if they manage to get into your garden, for not much will be left after their visit!

Not all that many years ago it was unusual to see donkeys roaming around town. There are now, however, an increasing number of donkeys seen either on their own or in groups of between three and eight. As with the cattle, these all have owners and are collected now and then to pull a cart.

Mostly though they are left to fend for themselves. They manage for their natural diet is a varied one, consisting of grass, shrubs and leaves. Sadly, a number of donkeys have also learned to raid rubbish bins in the street and gather in large numbers on the set rubbish collection days when residents place their black bags on the pavements in the suburbs.

Recently there were several donkeys grazing in an open park.

It is natural that during this prolonged drought period, many residents have become concerned about the plight of these donkeys that are largely left to their own devices. All over town are people who place buckets or large basins of water outside their gates so that the donkeys can have access to water. A lot of people feed them carrots or apples and have taken to stroking or patting them if they can. Most donkeys are docile and respond well to this kind treatment.

According to our local Ratepayers Association, these resourceful animals are quick to identify where they are likely to find food and are prepared to walk a long distance to such locations. I met a woman battling to close her garden gate early one morning as two donkeys were doing their best to get into her garden. “I give them bunches of carrots every morning,” she told me. “They come here every morning to get carrots from me.” It is not surprising then that these particular donkeys make their way to where she lives.

This Association informs us that the owners of the donkeys – mostly from the poorer area of town – prefer their donkeys to graze on the commonage, an open grassland close to where they live. That is the official line anyway. It is difficult to believe that so many donkeys would willingly leave the natural pasture on the other side of town to wander through the suburbs where they congregate in the shade of trees. This seems like a pleasant pastoral scene you might think.

Even though most residents have learned to tolerate the periodic invasions from the Urban Herd – probably because there is no way of getting rid of the cattle – there are some who loathe the presence of donkeys. Some set their dogs on them, while others shout at them or go after them with garden rakes or brooms, sending the donkeys clip-clopping along the tarred streets until their pursuer gives up the chase. A local resident complained that donkeys had ‘devoured’ all his vegetables (did he leave his gate open?), while another complained that “donkeys also pee prodigiously”. To emphasise his point he commented that he was about to lodge a complaint about a blocked sewage pipe near his home “when I realised I was looking at, and smelling, a fresh donkey download streaming across the street.” At this another responded, “They seem ‘cute’ until they behave as if they were in the veld!” Excuse me, are donkeys meant to use discreet toilets in the suburbs?

The old grey donkey, Eeyore stood by himself in a thistly corner of the Forest, his front feet well apart, his head on one side, and thought about things. Sometimes he thought sadly to himself, “Why?” and sometimes he thought, “Wherefore?” and sometimes he thought, “Inasmuch as which?” and sometimes he didn’t quite know what he was thinking about. A. A. Milne.

URBAN DONKEYS

Apart from the Urban Herd that wanders through the suburbs at will, we have had to become used to donkeys walking through town. Increasingly though, they too have been making their way through the suburbs and even up to the abandoned golf course on the edge of town. I know we are not the only ones to take a few carrots with us now and then to feed them; several residents have taken to placing buckets or basins of water outside their gates for the donkeys to quench their thirst – where else will they get water? Cradock Dam is empty and the leaking water pipes tend to be in the middle of the road – not a safe place to drink at all!

Not long ago, five donkeys were grazing on the abandoned golf course. I got out of the car to photograph them more easily and was taken aback when four of them trotted right at me! The one in the background paid no heed – perhaps it was really hungry.

They pushed against me as I paused to pat them and stroke them – and tried to get a little distance to photograph one or two.

This wasn’t easy as I had no sooner lifted my camera when a head was shoved under my arm.

It was with a degree of reluctance that I left them nuzzling each other under the trees.

TAKING A BREAK

The year has started with its usual nonsense of having to be here, do that, go there, pull this, load that. We need a break – a real one – albeit out in the open. This pile of sand left over from some or other building operation is not only warm, it is soft and good to roll around on. Hey! We almost blend into our background – no-one will take much notice of us!

And so it was that I happened upon this pair of donkeys fast asleep on a pavement in the suburbs. When I stopped to look at them they opened their eyes, looked at me then fell back. The one on the right then bestirred itself to have a good back scratch while it rolled – then they both had more shut-eye.

DONKEY TRIO

Donkeys roam all over our town. The other day we came across one that had been waiting patiently at a gate, lost patience and began braying and stamping its feet. We assume it is used to being given a carrot or some other food there. Early one morning in another part of town we saw a donkey walking up and down along a stretch of the pavement when a woman came out, still wearing her dressing gown, with a basin of water and a bunch of carrots. “I feed them every morning”, she told us. In fact, driving around the suburbs, I have become conscious of several plastic basins of water placed on the pavements outside homes and imagine these are mostly for the benefit of donkeys.

Yes, these donkeys do have owners. They are occasionally rounded up to pull carts to collect firewood or to transport other goods from one place to the next. One can tell that not all have been treated well for many bear the marks of having been lashed, while others have open sores. An elderly couple were spotted recently rubbing salve on the leg of a donkey outside their home. Other donkeys have their tails trimmed in different ways, to differentiate one from another: I have seen several with the tail hairs cut short around the edges, leaving a long section in the middle; some tails have been cut straight at the bottom; others at an angle – all to make it easier for their owners to recognise them.

We have seen this particular trio of donkeys grazing in the veld on the hill opposite our house and have named them the ‘forest donkeys’. Okay, there is no forest there; there never was, but all the young trees that have been growing since the area was devastated by fire a few years ago have been eaten by herds of cattle that roam the area.

These donkeys are on the road leading to the army base on the edge of town – the buildings in the background – and are next to the aerodrome. The latter is well fenced and we have not yet seen any animals grazing on it.

While donkeys do not belong in urban areas, we have become used to their presence and who can resist the plight of these creatures that are used and abandoned at will by their owners. Until this area receives the rain it so sorely needs, many kind-hearted residents will continue to provide water and carrots to help them along.