OVER 2,000 Greek and Turkish Cypriots have joined forces in order to protect a rare breed of feral donkey, once labelled by President Makarios as “the only true Cypriots on Cyprus”.
The animals could be under threat of extinction from reckless hunters, disgruntled farmers and drought, environmental activists have warned.
Using a Facebook group entitled ‘Save The Cyprus Donkey’, the people have come together after ten of the brown animals were found shot dead in Karpasia at the end of March.
They describe the donkey as the symbol of Cyprus and say that it is their responsibility to protect one of the world’s last wild colonies.
“The ones that belong to us are murdered by the ones who do not belong to us. If we stay silent, that makes us a part of this murder,” their message states.
A fortnight ago, members met at Monarga village from where they headed off to the Karpas peninsula’s ‘Golden Beach’ to commemorate the dead animals and discuss what to do.
“Hunters are shooting at them for fun, and farmers are killing them because they say they damage their crops,” the head of the Turkish Cypriot branch of the Green Action group, Dogan Sahir, told the Mail following the shootings.
“The enemy of nature is the enemy of humans,” read a banner unfurled by a small group of demonstrators at a sandy beach near Rizokarpaso village, that has for decades been a donkey sanctuary.
According to news agency Agence France Presse, a 20-year-old primary school employee who addressed the rally said the main suspects in the unsolved deaths were farmers angered by crop damage.
But fingers have also been pointed at hunters and developers eager to exploit the Karpas peninsula, one of the last unspoilt parts of the island.
Ironically, the Karpas donkey colony has been boosted by the 1974 Turkish invasion.
The vast majority of the area’s Greek Cypriot farmers fled south during the fighting, abandoning their animals.
And as agriculture declined amid the growing urbanisation, the ‘freed’ donkeys were replaced by tractors and pick-ups.
A 2003 study found that about 800 donkeys were roaming the olive orchards and wheat fields, and along the beaches of the relatively unspoilt Karpas landscape.
Sahir believes the number of the indigenous donkeys living there has been falling rapidly since the last census was carried out. The breed is believed to be unique because it has managed to survive unassisted by humans in the wild since escaping from its owners centuries ago.
“We cannot know how many are left, but we do know that many have been killed since the count,” Sahir said.
Commenting, a spokesman for the Veterinary Services described the shootings as “unacceptable”.
He called on various environmental groups to exert pressure on the authorities in order to protect the donkeys.
“It’s a real shame what’s happening,” he said, adding that the Services cannot intervene as they do not have any jurisdiction in the north.
Many years ago, the donkeys and mules of Cyprus were renowned throughout the Middle East for their size, strength and endurance.
They were also valuable to the island’s British colonial rulers during both world wars.
Cyprus donkeys were exported throughout the region for cross-breeding with horses to produce a mighty strain of mule.
According to the 1931 Handbook of Cyprus, “the Cyprus donkeys are of good quality being able to carry a load from 168 pounds (75 kilos) to 224 pounds and over.”
(Cyprus Mail 22/4/2008)