Yesterday we went to the Donkey Sanctuary Aruba. It was established in 1997 to care for the many neglected donkeys roaming the island. They arrived 500 years ago and carried people around until cars replaced them. Eventually, some terrible affliction reduced the donkey population to only 20 in 1970. Then their numbers began to slowly increase simultaneously along with the number of people and cars on the island. After that, donkeys became a serious hazard to people behind the wheel of the many automobiles on Aruban roadways. It was far worse for the donkey, however. Injured people could recover inside the hospital, while donkeys were just left to die on the side of the road. The Donkey Sanctuary Aruba was founded to save these unfortunate creatures from needless suffering.
Before I moved to Aruba I assumed all the donkeys lived in the Donkey Sanctuary Aruba. Indeed many donkeys do live there, but some still roam the island, along with the traveling herds of goats and an occasional vicious pack of wild dogs. I have had so many encounters with animals in just a short span of six weeks. Animals are just part of daily life here. I don’t even flinch anymore when a lizard darts between the bottles of shampoo and conditioner while I’m showering. I calmly step on the brakes to watch a peep of chickens waddle in front of my car to cross the road on my morning commute to work. My favorite animals are the goats. I always abruptly pull off the side of the road to try to snap a photo. It’s pointless though to try and capture that kind of experience inside a frame. It is one of those things you just have to be here to see, like so many other things I love about living in Aruba. Besides the goats quickly disappear into the desert brush to graze on all the trash that blows about. Other encounters aren’t so easy to spot. Rather, you have to look closely to find some of the camouflaged creatures because they blend in with the landscape. Iguanas hide out in the tall green grass and bop their head up and down when you walk nearby. One magical evening, I was lucky enough to see a moonlit silhouette of donkey ears: a drove of dozens of donkey ears juxtaposed amidst hundreds of cacti. It was truly a magical site.
Most animals travel in groups and I am as fascinated with the odd names for these groups as I am the actual animals. You do find some solitary types as well, mostly reptiles and dogs. One Friday a baby boa constrictor was found dangling from a pipe outside of my classroom. The next Friday another was found slithering across the playground. Apparently, boas have invaded the island. Once upon a time, some twenty years ago, boas didn’t live here in Aruba. The first one was found in 1999; people say someone carelessly released pet snakes. Whatever happened, the boa quickly multiplied and easily adapted to the scrubby, desert terrain, spreading out all across the island by hitching rides under car hoods. Along with the solitary snakes, most dogs haughtily zigzag their way down the roads and in-between buildings. They fascinate me with their individual morning habits and routines; they are so oddly similar to us as when it comes to predictable behavior. Every morning I see the same dog asleep at 6:45 on the side of Route 4, just before the Valero gas station. There is another odd breed with Yoda ears that is always standing, attentive and alert, at the corner on Caya G. F. Betico Croes, nearby the roundabout before Banco di Caribe.
I love all animals, which is why I agreed to volunteer at the Donkey Sanctuary Aruba. Training starts Saturday.