The Wild Donkeys of the Karpas Peninsula

The wild Donkeys of the Karpas Peninsula

THE LONG, finger-like Karpas peninsula is one of the most prominent and unusual geographical features of the North and home to one of the most unusual and symbolic creatures to the region, the wild donkey – and these are no ordinary donkeys!

Although the Karpas donkeys wander feral across the remote mountainous tracks they are not so much wild as liberated.

During the chaotic political upheaval and hostility during the 1970s, many domesticated donkeys were left behind when the Greek Cypriot villagers and farmers fled to settle in the south.

The donkeys, free from the constraints of captivity, were left to enjoy their newfound freedom in the tranquillity of the Karpas region. The five hundred or so remaining donkeys today are therefore direct descendants of the domesticated donkeys that toiled away several decades earlier.

The donkey’s numbers were originally much greater. These animals were once crucial to the island’s agriculture, carrying olives from the groves and cereals to the mills. Their ability to carry up to one-third of their body weight, as well as being able to navigate rough terrain, meant their demand was high – indeed, as most modern households depend on vehicles.

Needless to say, the inevitable progress in agriculture and transportation have long since dispensed with the services of the donkey. Nonetheless, this tough little beast remains an important part of life here. The cultural significance of the donkey no longer lies in its physical strength but in the strength of its symbolism of Cypriot life of old – a life prior to the political upheaval and for many a much simpler time without the constraints of a UN-patrolled buffer zone splitting the island in half.

And whilst the two sides of the island otherwise remain divided, following news of the untimely deaths of ten Karpas donkeys (probably for farmland foraging) a Facebook initiative to save the donkeys was launched. The combined efforts of both the Turkish and Greek Cypriots to preserve and protect the dwindling numbers of donkeys definitely united the way – at the very least for the donkeys whose lives are now thankfully protected not only by the state but by the conservation efforts of the whole island.

But there is a twist to the tail. The irony of this delightful donkey story is that the donkeys themselves seem totally disinclined to reunite with anyone, neither Turkish, Greek nor tourist. Despite their domesticated roots and adorable appearance, the Karpas donkeys are notoriously bad-tempered.

That said (albeit from a safe distance of course) they remain a heart-warming sight and represent not only a classic symbol of Cyprus of old but a peaceful symbol of an autonomous North. Despite continued political division and UN border patrols, the North is a region that enjoys a quiet charm and tranquillity that is surely attributable to its independence.