On Statia, people of a certain age remember “Cap”, the last of the donkey-riders, an old man who rode his donkey every day from home to town and back. As on many islands, donkeys once provided the entire economy with transportation, and over time they became a living symbol of history and culture. Each island has its unique aspect of Caribbean culture; Statia has been agricultural, and many people still are farmers. It has not been so long ago that the people kept and rode donkeys, and “Cap”, little man with a big smile and a friendly word, was one of those.
In more recent years, roaming donkeys caused problems for the people. Last year most Statia donkeys were captured, males were neutered, and many were sold off island. Today perhaps 60 or 70 of those remaining are inside a fenced enclosure on the north side of the island, stretching from the new Governor De Graaff School to the LVV office area. Some have been in this pen since February 2012.
Well and good. Many Statia people want roaming animal control. (A local farmer said he estimates we have upward of 3000 free-roaming cattle.)
But not well and good for the donkeys. Control is one thing, management another. Out of sight and out of mind (many citizens don’t even know the donkeys are in the pen), but worse: the donkeys are starving. They have not been fed at all, have eaten all the grass and forage in their enclosure since almost four months now, and don’t get enough water in their three small tubs, which are the size of my laundry basket. There is even a breeding goat herd in their pen to compete for every leaf and blade.
A visiting Volunteer Veterinarian group in February 2012 warned that the penned donkeys must be given shelter from the sun, daily water, and sufficient food, since they would soon graze their area clean. The Agriculture Department management agreed, and specifically promised that grass cut from the airport would be fed to the fenced donkeys.
In December 2012, one of our most experienced and respected local farmers was met on the street, and was asked if the donkeys were still getting enough water. He spoke seriously, “Sometimes they get water, but the problem is, they have no food.” “No food?? But it was promised they were to have all the grass cut from the airport!” “They never got any grass.” He repeated it. “Never. And since more than three months they have eaten everything to eat inside the fence. No one has fed them anything.”
Being a curious person who loves animals, I went on the New Year to see for myself. From outside the fence I could smell the dead ones. I went all around the enclosure. Some of the dead I could see, lying among the Caucia and Pondu. It was possible to see the circles of dust around the bodies, created as they moved their legs in the struggle to stand.
The others in the pen are not tame animals, but they followed me all along the fence begging for food. Could one of these be “Cap’s” donkey?
These animals are today so weak that when they just lie down to rest, or fall, they often have no strength to rise again; simply not enough power in their hips and legs even to stand. I have seen one or two pulled to their feet, and once standing, they walked away to live one more day. But rarely does anyone go into this sad field of dust and thorns, where a fallen donkey is barely visible from outside, and where, after about three days, the down ones die in thirst and suffering.
Sometimes the three little water tubs have been refilled more than once, so several could drink, but more often they are filled only once. The slower, shier, and weaker do not reach them in time, and get nothing. The three tubs often sit empty for three and four days at a time, when an ideal amount is 8 gallons per day per animal, which is possible since the Department has a water truck and a well just down the road. Statia donkeys are tough, but not tough enough for that neglect. Individual people have even been bringing water on their own.
With veterinary advice, several of us have begun to feed them with a tiny amount of imported grass and with local grass and bush, but perhaps 1/8 the amount they need. It is not enough, and is not a long-term solution. Some of the donkeys are simply starving. Others could have colic; lack of water, being reduced to eating poisonous plants not in their normal diet, eating sandy soil as they graze, are among the causes. Whatever the reasons, they are dying.
There is a reason animal cruelty is a crime in civilized countries. We know that what is done to the least of us is done to the rest, and our laws reflect that. Cruelty and neglect of children, the elderly, the disadvantaged, and yes, animals, debases all of us. Science tells us that animals feel the same emotions as humans, among them fear, doubt, bewilderment, anxiety, despair. And of course, they feel physical pain.
Statia people are not unkind. They are generally tolerant, rightfully proud, love their island, and sometimes wonder out loud why Government doesn’t do more about certain problems seen every day. They have many valid concerns other than donkeys.
There has been much recent melee of temper and blame; a sudden flurry of catch-up water and greenery delivery (mango leaves), quick burials of the donkey bodies. The Agricultural employees could have done more before now, true, but they are employees, not managers.
A management solution is possible, however. Everyone can see that the Agriculture/LVV Department is overburdened. They are busy in daily meetings, fighting battles on every front, on land and at sea. They are very busy controlling the cows, pigs, goats and sheep.