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Silence Of The Donkeys

Karoo Donkey Sanctuary

Karoo Donkey Sanctuary (photo: supplied)Hope And Glory in the feedlot at Harstwater (photo: supplied)

This week’s story started out looking like one that Nobody would do anything about and ended up being one where Everybody pulled together. It reaffirmed my faith in humanity in general, but in the racing fraternity in particular.

I’ve shared this little gem of wisdom before, but it is worth retelling. This is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did. Somebody got angry because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized Everybody wouldn’t. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

It all started back in mid-January with news of a livestock auction in a town called Hartswater in the Northern Cape. The auction, offering an unusually large draft of 150 horses and 400 donkeys, attracted widespread attention thanks to the power of social media and an incredible network of people who worked hard to spread the news.

Why the fuss?

Karoo Donkey Sanctuary (photo: supplied)Trade in donkey skins (photo: supplied)

It seems there are people who believe (incorrectly) that the gelatin contained in donkey skins has medicinal properties. This has created a market for skins that is driving a grizzly industry on our very doorstep. However, unlike animals that are more commonly used for consumption, we do not have the formal infrastructure to slaughter donkeys humanely. Setting aside whether the concept of ‘humane slaughter’ is not an oxymoron, the demand and increasingly high prices being offered are resulting in theft and donkeys are being killed by methods that are beyond disturbing.

In the days leading up to the auction, photos surfaced on Facebook as concerned parties tried to document what was going on and rally support. Yes, South Africa has been in the grips of a drought, but even so, the nature of the photos made you wonder out loud what is WRONG with the world. As I stared in open-mouthed horror at the starvation, neglect and wide-eyed terror – or worse, the hollow-eyed indifference – I repeated those words, followed by ‘somebody should do something’. As it turned out, somebody did.


They say there are leaders and there are followers. If you are confused about where you fit in, get out the way. Enter Jonno Sherwin. Before he achieved his current notoriety, Jonno was a fairly normal guy with a fairly normal job. Approximately 4 years ago, Jonno and his partner Johan purchased a 20 ha slice of paradise just outside Prince Albert as a retreat from their 9-5 lives.

Karoo Donkey Sanctuary (photo: supplied)Karoo Donkey Sanctuary (photo: supplied)

The ‘donkey thing’ began when Jonno and Johan adopted four previously abused donkeys from the Karoo Animal Protection Society in Barrydale in the Klein Karoo. “We realised how special and sentient they are. They are such special creatures we just fell in love with them,” he says. Jonno progressed to serving on the management committee for the Cart Horse Protection Association which focuses on Cape Town’s working equids and confiscated donkeys started finding their way to Prince Albert. Jonno soon had a permanent herd of 22 and it was becoming more than they could cope with on their own, so in July 2016 they made it official, registering the Karoo Donkey Sanctuary (KDS) as an NPO to enable them to formally go to the market for crowd funding, virtual adoption, etc.


Karoo Donkey Sanctuary (photo: supplied)Hartswater sales ground (photo: supplied)

“Facebook followers alerted me to the Hartswater auction, which was one of the largest auctions of horses and donkeys ever seen,” explains Jonno. “We all went up the day before to see what was going on. I expected a dire situation, but the reality was 100 times worse.” A wide variety of animals arrived in unsuitable, unsafe transport, often bound for the journey. The ones that arrived uninjured didn’t stay that way for long as the crowded conditions and rough handling meant many animals were hurt after arrival.

Jonno continues,”On auction day, it was clear it was all about weight and meat. As each animal came into the ring, it was put on a scale and its weight displayed on a big screen along with its meat price of approx. R15/kg.” Perhaps most upsetting, mares and very young foals were separated in order to be sold as individual lots and the air was filled with the calls of distressed animals.

Operation Donkey Rescue

Thanks to crowd funding, Jonno had of a reserve to purchase around 50 donkeys. However, the auction started with a job lot of 56 donkey foals and he decided he simply had to have them. “I figured it would be a huge initiative, it would get people to the farm and I decided ‘let’s do it’. A few stock lots later, there was a group of 50 mares, some of which Jonno recognized as the moms of the foals he’d bought, so he purchased them with the hopes of reuniting some of the families. Thanks to a very generous private donation received during the auction, Jonno was able to expand his efforts. With 106 donkeys secured, they bought a mixed group of 28 horses and foals, including an emaciated old dun mare, later christened Hope And Glory, who adorned some of the worst of the auction photos.

Jonno and his team procured 136 donkeys and 28 horses. With the sale of an additional job lot of 100 donkeys falling through a few days later, KDS took them too and in all 264 souls made their way to Prince Albert. However, numbers are still swelling as the majority of the donkey mares are pregnant, so KDS has turned into something of a nursery over the past few weeks.

Team effort

Lots of mouths need lots of volunteers (photo: supplied)

I like to remind people that horses – and donkeys as it turns out – are not something you do on your own. They need vets and farriers and dentists and transporters and paddock and stable builders and grooms and an entire complement of staff just to keep them contained and fed and looked after. Then there are friends and family and in this case, fellow fundraisers and pretty soon, things are looking festive. When you are talking 260 souls, you’re taking things to a whole new level!

People have volunteered time and much needed equipment (feeding 260 mouths requires a lot of buckets and a lot of people to carry them) and along with the hoards of welfare workers, equestrians and general members of the public, racing rolled up its sleeves and stood shoulder to shoulder to help. As racing gets a regular battering in the press for being dreadful to our horses, I thought it worth reporting that when we put our minds to it, we also do some damn fine work. When it comes to welfare, we’re not particular about spreading the love and helping needy animals – whether they have ever set foot on a track or not.

Karoo Donkey Sanctuary (photo: supplied)The Choice Carriers team went above and beyond the call of duty (photo: supplied)

Peter Choice of Choice Carriers was roped in to do the transport. Despite being fully booked, when he heard of the plight of the animals, he rearranged their schedule to help and got everyone safely moved as well as helping deliver the donations of food and medical supplies have been streaming in from across the country. The wonderful team from Cape Vet (often seen on duty at local race meetings) volunteered their services, holding a massive clinic to assess every single animal and administer treatment for everything from colic to mange, burn wounds, emaciation, ulcers, expectant moms and undernourished foals.

Karoo Donkey Sanctuary (photo: supplied)KDS receives a cheque from the African Betting Clan and World Sports Betting (photo: supplied)

The African Betting Clan grouped together to hold an auction and collect donations and with the help of World Sports Betting, spirited bidding and generous donations, proudly delivered a cheque for R20k last weekend.

There is even a group down at the Cape Yacht Club who have taken up the cause. Viqui Stevenson explains, “Being a racehorse owner I get very upset about any sort of cruelty. We do a lot of fundraising through the yacht club and decided it was the donkeys for us!” They’ve had KDS decals made for their boat and any and all monies raised at the club’s regular events are going towards the donkey sanctuary. “Unfortunately the work doesn’t stop just because the animals have been saved. Now they need rehabilitating and rehoming. There is always something one can do to help raise funds and hopefully the racing industry can put its thinking cap on. Maybe one or two yards or studs need companion donkeys? I think Joey Ramsden should have one to go with his sheep and ducks,” she says mischievously. “But seriously, what everyone has done has been amazing. They really deserve credit for their hard work. All the positives need to be reinforced and there needs to be more encouragement.”

Where to now?

Now that the dust has settled and reality is starting to sink in, Jonno admits, “It has been and is incredible, and we fight on but I’m tired. I’m trying to multi-task and juggle my day job with fund-raising, updating social media and trying to run the farm by remote control. The Sanctuary is taking up a lot of time, but it’s also becoming a political issue. The main reason for doing the rescue was to save the animals from slaughter while raising awareness and opening the SA public’s eyes to what is going on in terms of donkey slaughter and the trafficking of skins in and out of this country. Now the Government has issued a statement that it intends to support this trade in the North West Province by formally setting up donkey breeding farms and registered government donkey slaughterhouses and with all the interest and attention we’ve generated, people are starting to say I need to lobby Government on the issue.”

Karoo Donkey Sanctuary (photo: supplied)Cape Vet’s Dr Laura Brewis in action (photo: supplied)

However, the immediate focus is to get all the animals back to full health. Once they have had the relevant vaccinations and served their quarantine, they will be available for adoption. Jonno says, “We’ve already had 50 individuals put their names forward to adopt – stud farms, game farms, wine farms – you name it. We will have to vet all the homes – our two main prerequisites are that the animals may not be worked or ridden, so we’re looking for retirement and companion homes only.”

Asked what he would like if there was a magic wand and he could have anything he wished for, Jonno dreams big. “In terms of our immediate needs, I would love to build a barn as we don’t have stabling and with winter coming, that’s something we’d really like. However, I would ultimately like us to become the Karoo Donkey and Horse Sanctuary. We’re already a registered NPO, but In order to do accommodate horses, we would need to acquire the neighbouring farm – they have the land we need as well as tremendous water reserves. So that’s the dream.” With welfare and racing aftercare an increasingly important conversation, perhaps it’s not as much of a pipe dream as he thinks.

Why it’s worth considering

Everybody can help change a life. If you can’t adopt – foster. If you can’t foster – sponsor. If you can’t sponsor – volunteer. If you can’t volunteer – donate, or transport an animal to safety. If you can’t donate – educate, network, and cross post. Massive thanks to everybody who has helped so far. As much as negative press affects and diminishes all of us, so positive stories like this build us up.

There is a special place in heaven for people like Jonno and his team. If anyone is interested in adopting, supporting or finding out more, please visit the Karoo Donkey Sanctuary website at http://karoodonkeysanctuary.org.za. A little love goes an awfully long way.


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6 comments on “Silence Of The Donkeys”

  1. A mammoth task and what an achievement. Well done Jonno and may your vision be realised sooner rather than later. Needless to say, VIVA to all who pulled together – for the animals!

  2. what KDS has done is mind boggling. With all the cruelty that is 24/7 on social media its beyond heartsore. That these 2 human beings have actually gotten off their butts and put their money where their mouth is…is humbling. What they have done is given me hope that there is some good out there. so much respect to KDS for what they have done and still doing. THANK YOU.

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