Eeyore plague: wild donkeys overrun Cyprus villages

Left to roam after the Turkish invasion in 1974, the beasts have thrived


The donkeys of Cyprus are a particularly stubborn lot. Decades after machines replaced them as the backbone of the farming economy, the animals just refuse to bow out. Fiercely territorial wild herds have overrun a remote part of the island, trampling crops, scaring drivers and giving authorities a headache over what to do.

The invasion has pitted village communities against environmental activists. The donkeys also serve as an unlikely reminder of the violent recent history of Cyprus – split for the past 35 years into a Greek Cypriot south and a Turkish Cypriot north. Mehmet Demirci, mayor of Dipkarpaz, or Rizokarpaso in Greek, in the breakaway Turkish north, says donkeys outnumber villagers by two to one and should be forcibly sterilised, or even expelled to Turkey.

"The donkeys are a real problem. The authorities just don't care about us," Mr Demirci said. He added that the last straw was the death last summer of a local youth, who crashed his car trying to avoid a wandering herd.

Although estimates of the precise number of feral donkeys vary, Mr Demirci says there are now about 1,000, all officially protected by Turkish Cypriot authorities. The beasts are a peculiar remnant of war, abandoned in 1974 by Greek Cypriot farmers fleeing an invading Turkish army. The island has since been split along ethnic lines, despite repeated diplomatic efforts for its reunification.

Despite a lack of human care, the animals have multiplied and thrived in the sparsely populated Karpas peninsula, a largely unspoiled sliver of land sticking out of the Mediterranean island's north-eastern edge. Over the decades, they have been broadly adopted as a cuddly symbol of the island's agrarian past. "Donkeys have offered so much," says Maria Nicolaou, manager of a donkey sanctuary near the coastal resort of Limassol, in the island's internationally recognised Greek-Cypriot south. "They are beautiful animals and very smart."

But most Karpas residents just see the animals as a major pain. Mr Demirci says 1,000 donkeys are far too many for a 116 square mile (300 square kilometre) area. Locals say they gobble up wheat and barley crops, ravage fruit and vegetable gardens, trample down vines and wantonly amble across the peninsula's narrow roads.

Mr Demirci says at least three villagers have been convicted of shooting donkeys dead and have each been fined €1,000 (£876). They were fortunate to avoid jail – intentionally killing the protected animals is punishable by up to seven years in prison. Hoping to capitalise on the frustration, one Turkish businessman offered to buy several of the donkeys at €1,000 per head, and put them to tourism-related work in Antalya, Turkey. Mr Demirci said the idea "made good sense", but was turned down by Turkish Cypriot authorities. Word of the rumoured sale drew quick condemnation from environmentalists on either side of the heavily militarised divide. Kenyan Atakol, head of the Turkish Cypriot environmentalist group Cekova, says sterilisation is a solution officials could consider.

Local conservationist Lois Cemal says a "sustainable" donkey population could be rounded up and placed in two or three smaller sanctuaries that could be converted into moneymaking eco-tourism enterprises, such as petting zoos or farms. "Ecotourism is a solution for sustainable development," she says. "You won't need to build five-star hotels."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Life and Style
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated
healthAmerican woman who did tells parents there is 'nothing to be afraid of'
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
The John Peel Lecture has previously been given by Pete Townshend of The Who, Billy Bragg and Charlotte Church
musicGodfather of punk will speak on 'free music in a capitalist society'
peopleAt least it's for a worthwhile cause
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments