By Renate Strub, Epicure & Culture Contributor
Bon Bini! Welcome to Aruba. A tiny 19.6-mile long and six-mile wide island off the coast of Venezuela. It’s home to camels, monkeys, emus and the occasional anaconda. But where can you find them?…
Philip’s Animal Garden
Philip’s Animal Garden, that’s where. A non-profit organization founded in 2009 by Philip Conrad Merryweather, Philip followed his life-long love of animals and over time created this habitat. They specialize in rescuing and rehabilitating exotic animals from Aruba and many areas of the world, finding neglected or sick animals in bankrupt zoos, or from private owners. Not only four-legged creatures find a home here, but also exotic birds such as the colorful cockatoos, macaws and parrots.
Philip’s caring and dedication are visible everywhere, from the spacious and spotless facilities to how healthy and well-cared-for the animals look. They receive the required vaccines and diets tailored to their specific nutritional needs. Philip and his family live on the grounds, so he is always close to his protégés. If animals can look happy, they certainly do here.
The Garden is funded by donations and the admission fees: $10 for adults, $5 for children 13 years and up. Children between 3 and 13 years are free. Tours are offered every half hour between 9 am to 5 pm seven days a week. The tours last about one hour, but visitors can stay for as long as they want. The admission fee includes a bag of carrots and compressed grass pellets.
Note though that one bag might not last very long. The first animals waiting for tourists — rather, their food bags — are donkeys, camels and an alpaca. Gentle and friendly, these creatures gingerly take the offered carrot or pellets. It seems they have been trained to put their best foot forward. Favorites of children are the Nigerian Dwarf goats and the Capuchin and Spider monkeys. As they would say in the local language Papiamento: they are all dushi. Some of dushi’s different meanings are sweet, nice and good — applied to people, tasty food and general good things in life.
Emus are well represented here, as are gray tortoises. Large snakes are usually only exhibited on special occasions as it takes quite a few people to handle them.
Donkey Sanctuary Aruba
But where are the wild donkeys, brought to Aruba by the Spaniards some 500 years ago? At the Donkey Sanctuary Aruba. A non-profit organization established in 1997, it’s now home to 132 wild donkeys. After being housed in several small locations, in April of this year they were all moved to the present habitat. Here they have the space they need, with enough room for expansion.
Buricos, as the locals lovingly call them, were once used to transport cargo and people but were replaced with the introduction of motorized vehicles to the island. As the need for them decreased, their owners let them loose in the arid hills. Donkeys are tough animals and need little to survive, however, over time their numbers declined due to illness and accidents.
The Donkey Sanctuary rescues sick, injured orphan animals, and they stay here for life. Each one is given a name and receives food, shelter and medical care; plus, plenty of love from their volunteer caretakers.
Entrance to the sanctuary is free, but visitors are encouraged to purchase bags containing grass pellets, at $3 a bag. Carrots and apples are not available at the center, but donkeys love them and show their appreciation to visitors who bring them. The center also has postcards for sale, and donations are most welcome.
Donkeys Are Gentle Animals
Visitors are free to enter the donkey area through a two-door secured entrance. Although at first it might seem intimidating to be among so many donkeys, people soon find themselves totally at ease, as the donkeys are very friendly and gentle. They might surround a person, but only because they expect a treat. It is a unique experience to be in touch with these animals. They relish to be petted and eat out of the visitors’ hands. The best way to offer the small grass pellets — which is easier for the donkeys to grab them — is on an extended, flat hand. Carrot and apple pieces should be held in the fingers, and the donkeys will take them without touching the offering hand.
Because Aruba has very little rainfall, less than 20 inches per year, the island is rather arid. Vegetation is comprised mostly by the iconic Divi Divi trees, always bent in a southwesterly direction because of the trade winds. There are also several cacti species such as the Kadushi Cactus and the Yatu Cactus, and to a lesser extend Caribbean Pines. There is a unique beauty to this arid landscape, never far away from white, soft sand beaches and the translucent turquoise sea. Adding to this an average temperature of 82°F makes Aruba a beautiful place to visit.
Philip’s Animal Garden, Alto Vista 116, Noord. Tel. 297 593 5363. Email [email protected].Hours: Monday – Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday – Sunday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Donkey Sanctuary Aruba, Bringamosa 2-Z, Sta. Cruz. Tel. 297 593 2933. Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days a week. Directions: Take Route 4a from the hotels and follow this road for 14 km, pass all the circles/roundabouts until you see a sign for the French Men’s Pass. Make a left turn into the French Men’s Pass, then 1st left, 2nd right. On that dirt road, you will find the Donkey Sanctuary after about 200 meters.
Safety Travel Essential, a Vigilant Personal Alarm. Pull the pin to have it blare louder than a fire truck!
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