PROVíNCIA DE CASTELLó – Make donkeys and other animals great allies in forest fire prevention. That was the idea of the Regional Ministry of Agriculture of Valencia regarding the Natural Park of the Desert of Las Palmas de Castellón.
The program consisted of taking in animals such as donkeys and introducing them to the Desert de les Palmes Natural Park. This was so they could help remove plants and help prevent fires. Therefore, on August 4, a total of 52 donkeys from Grau de Castellón arrived at the hermitage of Les Santes. It would serve as a pilot and if successful, the experience could be carried over to the entire park.
The death of 10 donkeys
The idealistic project lasted barely two months. In October, it was terminated by the Consell “because it didn’t work”. The reason for the failure of the program: the death of 10 of the donkeys.
This information was not known until a resident of Cabanes raised the alarm on social networks, sparking outrage from groups such as Gecen (Group for the Study and Conservation of Natural Spaces). It denounced the lack of transparency in the government and claims liability for negligence in the management of this program.
Photos of starving donkeys
“So far the only thing that the Ministry has said is that they have opened a file. But we demand responsibility because the deaths of these animals are not due to a specific event. They were also not a result of a force majeure situation. Furthermore, there are photos of some starving donkeys. And these photographs were not taken in one day,” emphasises Gecen spokesman Paco González in Las Provincias.
“We are not against these types of vegetation management and fire prevention projects with donkeys, horses, or cows. It is done in other areas. However, we are against the way the monitoring and negligent management have been carried out in this case,” emphasises González.
The project started at the initiative of the nature park itself. It was inspired by many other similar ones that use animals to clear scrub and loose vegetation from forests. This results in less fuel being available in the event of a forest fire.
Project did not work
However, sources at the ministry admitted to Las Provincias that “the experience didn’t work. And in early October we were warned that the animals were not in the conditions they should be”. Therefore, “the farmer was asked to remove the animals.”
Once that order was passed, the ministry decided on Tuesday to “open a file to clarify what happened. Because,” they admit, “it’s very unusual for these animals to have had these problems in as little as a few weeks.”
However, the ministry does not want to speculate on a cause or responsibility for what happened. It now must talk to the various parties to determine exactly what happened to the animals.
According to the ministry, the farmer would be responsible for the animals, but they avoid blaming him for what happened and insist that the results of talks with all parties involved should be awaited.
One dead every time
The owner of the 52 donkeys, Juan Lebrián, said yesterday that earlier this month he warned the municipality that “every time I went to see the donkeys, one appeared lifeless in a ditch or among the brambles. Thus a total of ten donkeys died.” Lebrián denied that the department led by Mireia Mollà had ordered him to retrieve the animals from the Desert de Les Palmes.
The shepherd emphasised that he has no idea about the cause of death of the animals, but noted that “they were injured in the paws”, some injuries that he believes correspond to those that could be inflicted by “hunting dogs hunting wild boars.”
Suspicion of man behind the deaths
The farmer, who has already removed the donkeys from the area, suspects that the hand of man is behind the death of ten of his animals, because he considers it unfeasible that “the animals themselves cut the electric fence”. Further, he explained, “A donkey doesn’t jump into brambles. In two and a half months, with the abundant food they had, it is impossible to lose ten donkeys.
To support this hypothesis, Lebrián related the story of another rancher who had donkeys in another nearby ravine and who one day came across a sign saying that he should either remove the bells the donkeys were carrying or that they should remove all of them. Otherwise, they would be killed.