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Why You Need to Visit This Moroccan Sanctuary for Abandoned Donkeys

Picture of Sarah Williams
Updated: 24 April 2017
The hard-working donkeys laboring on the bustling streets of Morocco’s Marrakesh are a sight that visitors cannot help but notice. Transporting people and goods throughout the city, donkeys play an important role in local life and business. But have you ever wondered what happens to these creatures when they become too old to work?

Jarjeer Mule and Donkey Refuge: a Safe Home for Retired and Sick Animals

A Moroccan donkey carrying a lady and greenery |© Mario Micklisch / Flickr
A Moroccan donkey carrying a lady and greenery | © Mario Micklisch / Flickr

Located close to Marrakesh, at the bottom of the Atlas Mountains, the Jarjeer Mule and Donkey Refuge is a sanctuary for old, abandoned, sick, and mistreated animals.

Although the center is a haven for donkeys and mules, the team’s work extends far beyond simply housing and caring for the animals. Jarjeer Refuge focuses on animal welfare. It aims to reduce working animals from being over-worked, mistreated, and abused. Educational work with the public and owners of working animals is vital to the center’s mission.

Animals that are capable of work, work. While retired creatures spend their days relaxing, younger animals help to raise funds for the center by working in a humane, ethical, and controlled manner.

As well as letting older animals live the rest of their days in comfort, the center also acts as a hospice for animals that aren’t expected to live much longer. Palliative care and pain relief makes an animal’s last days on earth more bearable.

All donkeys and mules at the center are vaccinated against rabies and have top-class hoof care. The health of the animals is important.

The sanctuary works closely with SPANA, a global charity with a presence in Marrakesh that aims to improve the lives of working animals by way of education, free or discounted veterinary care, and emergency assistance.

Brief History of Jarjeer Mule and Donkey Refuge

Donkey carrying goods in Morocco
Working donkey carrying many goods in Morocco | © akaitori / Flickr

Jarjeer Mule and Donkey Refuge was established by a British couple, Susan Machin and Charles Hantom. Both worked in the legal profession in the U.K. before building a home in the village of Oumnass. Oumnass is located approximately 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) from Marrakesh.

The sanctuary is supported by the Machin Foundation, a charity that was set up in honor of Susan Machin’s father. The center’s name came from a type of herb that covered the land at the time of purchase.

Jarjeer Refuge received one of its earliest animals in 2011, though the story started a couple of years before that.

In 2009, a heavily pregnant and dying female donkey was taken to SPANA in Marrakesh. The vets knew that the donkey would have to be put to sleep, but they wanted to do their best to save the unborn foal. The foal was quickly delivered by caesarean section and the mother was euthanized. Given the name Tommy, the young male donkey received a lot medical attention in his early days, and grew into life as an orphan.

After two years of living at SPANA and growing stronger day by day, Tommy needed a new home. He also needed to work, to help with excess energy and teenage aggression. And so Tommy was moved to Jarjeer to work the land. He was castrated and kept with a strong-willed female donkey, as advised by an expert. Tommy became the center’s mascot and a representation of all local working animals.

The sanctuary grew, taking in more animals in need, and today is home to around 30 donkeys and mules. Jarjeer Refuge gives all animals a name on arrival, helping workers and visitors to bond with the creatures. There are further plans for expansion, which will allow the home to care for more animals.

The center employs local staff to care for the animals and lands. This helps to overcome cultural differences and provides an income for local families.

Public Visits to Jarjeer Refuge

Donkey mouth
Up close and personal with a donkey | © Peter Roome / Flickr

Public visits are important to raise awareness and funds. Visitors can interact with the gentle creatures and take a stroll with a donkey in the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains. Donkey rides are available for children under the age of ten, though rides are suspended if the temperatures soar beyond 34° Celsius (93.2° Fahrenheit).

Purchases from the onsite shop and café help to support the refuge. Adoption programs are in place. Donations are greatly appreciated and allow the animal home to continue with its important work and move forward with plans for expansion.

Role of Working Animals in Morocco

Marrakesh Donkey
Donkey working in Marrakesh | © davidsmalley / Flickr

Donkeys and mules have long been important in Moroccan society. Strong and fairly easy to control, donkeys are often a cheaper alternative to motorized vehicles and other equipment.

Agriculture is a major source of income for many Moroccan families. Most farms have at least one donkey to assist with heavy work. Donkeys pull heavily laden carts across the farm, moving supplies and people to where they need to be. When a crop is ready, donkeys pull their carts through the streets, taking goods to markets and buyers.

In times gone by, donkeys walked on wheat to separate the grains from the stalks. The pounding of their hooves removed the wheat from the chaff, allowing farmers to gather the valuable grain from the floor. This job is now largely done by machinery.

Working animals are especially important in areas where road access is difficult, such as in the mountains and in the narrow alleyways of Morocco’s medinas. Even today, donkeys and mules may be the only way that some remote communities can obtain fresh water and food supplies from outside their village.

The tourism industry uses donkeys and mules for transportation too. It is common for working animals to accompany mountain-trekking groups, carrying equipment, supplies, and personal baggage from camp to camp.

Donkeys and mules work tirelessly in Moroccan society. They are, however, often only valued while they are useful. When a donkey is too old or too sick to work, they are often seen as an unnecessary financial burden on the owner. This leads to the abuse, neglect, and abandonment of many working animals each year, as well as animals being worked for longer than is healthy and humane. The Jarjeer Mule and Donkey Refuge gives peace and comfort to donkeys after a life of hard work, letting them live out their twilight years with dignity.