It is a week now since they started working in the Doñana National Park in Huelva. Their mission is to help prevent forest fires. These are not people, however: they are donkeys who are used to clear firebreaks in areas which are difficult for teams from the Infoca fire service to access. There are 18 of them and their work is organised by Mujeres por Doñana, a group set up by women ecologists.
The donkeys graze in the undergrowth and keep the ground clear, and their work is paying off, according to a statement from El Burrito Feliz (The Happy Little Donkey) association. "The areas they keep clear has never been burned,” they say.
The donkeys start work in the mornings and are taken in when the evening comes. Volunteers from the women’s group take them fresh water to drink during the day.
The donkey team even has its own leader. He is called Galileo and has been featured by the media in different countries because of his unusual story. He grew up in a dog rescue shelter, thought he too must be a dog and behaved just like one.
Galileo was rescued by Huelva council and taken to El Burrito Feliz to live. “He knows what he wants but he is an affable character and he keeps everything in order so the others can relax and work peacefully,” say sources at the association.
The donkey fire prevention squad in Doñana has even become quite famous abroad and Spain Military Emergency Unit says this is a good example to follow in preventing forest fires.
Recently an Australian production company came to film a report on the women and their donkeys and their work to save what is possibly the most fragile natural environment in Europe, and in a few days a team from Mujeres por Doñana and El Burrito Feliz will travel to the Basque Country, where they have been invited to advise other groups on setting up teams of fire prevention donkeys in that area.
The women’s group has also received a letter from the Spanish goverenment, praising them for their efforts and encouraging them to continue. This has been quite a boost for its members, who work hard and altruistically to defend and look after the National Park.