Donkeyland, a sanctuary educating people about a familiar and misunderstood animal

A donkey sanctuary in Koropi, SE of Athens, introduces the public to an animal long part of Greek culture and familiar to thousands of visitors from abroad, but one that paradoxically remains little understood.

Gaidourohora – Land of the Donkey – hosts 16 animals living in barns, with open spaces to run and play in, and is run by Tatiana Papamoschou and Dimitris Stoupakis, both trained by the famed British centerm The Donkey Sanctuary. Gaidourohora (http://gaidourohora.gr/) provides revenues for their Hellenic Donkey Center (https://hellenicdonkeycenter.gr/), which cares for donkeys long term, especially after physical abuse or when their owners can no longer look after them, and also provides adoptions and related training.

As Papamoschou explains, there are a few other donkey sanctuaries in Greece: One in Trikala, which cannot accept any more animals, two in Crete, and one in Corfu. Of all, however, their center is the only one to provide training to current and future owners on how to treat them and work with them while also providing rehabilitation to hurt animals.

Deploring the lack of protection laws for equines in Greece, she further describes as donkey necessities “space, free movement, protection from some weather conditions, friends of its kind, and things to keep its mind busy.” She compares horses to donkeys, pointing out that “the donkey is a desert animal, and it had to reserve energy. It didn’t have the luxury of running for no reason, like a horse that always had food and water and didn’t care about reserving energy. The horse ran on the plains, but the donkey lived in deserts, and rocky and arid lands, that’s why it’s always thinking before it acts. This has led to the conclusion that it’s a ‘stubborn’ animal – but it’s not stubborn, it has a highly developed critical sense.”

Donkeys also learn to work in groups, she said, despite their distinct characters. “Donkeys teach us how a group works, and this is a very good lesson for us as well,” she notes.

What makes them ideal for working with children that need therapy, another service their center provides, is that donkeys “are extremely tender, communicative and playful animals. When they are not abused, they develop a very tender relationship with a person – they are a lot more interactive than horse are.” But Papamoschou said that riding donkeys is only allowed for children who need therapy, for example if a therapist recommends that the child learn how to balance. The center provides outpatient sessions, individually or in groups, with specialists, and can include several sessions.

For the general public, they provide donkey trekking at Gaidourochora, where a person is assigned a donkey, which carries lunch, and there is a group outing to nature. “A donkey should never carry more than 20 pct its own weight,” Papamoschou explains.

The center reopened after coronavirus restrictions, and is accepting visitors again.