I had neither imagined nor had heard of an exclusive sanctuary for donkeys till I landed at the Donkey Sanctuary on my visit to Leh. It is around 3 km from the main city. I took a cab to the sanctuary and had a hard time locating it. Since it is the only donkey sanctuary in Asia, I had imagined it bigger. Initially, it was a let down as the donkey sanctuary turned out to be nothing more than a barn. But the whole concept of it startled me and engaged my mind the whole time.
The sanctuary was started by an individual named Joanne Lefson, a photo journalist from South Africa. She was saddened to see the donkeys in implorable conditions. Though their plight was lamented by animal lovers, nothing had been done to improve their conditions. Joanne along with her local friend Stanny Wangchuk founded the Sanctuary to improve the living conditions of the donkeys in Leh. Joanne wrote a book, 'Around the world: My travels with Oscar', documenting travel experiences with her dog Oscar.
At the gate of the Donkey Sanctuary it was written, “This sanctuary was opened in July 2008 to accommodate the neglected donkeys in Leh. This place is a peaceful resting place for those that have faced unbearable hardships. Here they will find peace.”
The notice boards were put up to spread awareness about the prevailing conditions and how donkeys are being treated. One board reads, “Why donate? I'm just a donkey. I work very hard for most of my life but when I'm no longer needed I'm often sent to the street to try and survive on my own. There I'm forced to eat plastic and anything else I can find. I grew thin, tired and weak. I'm kicked, whipped and often beaten, against all the odds, I manage to survive. Many of my friends are attacked by the dogs. Many of them are hit by the vehicle. Then one fine day, I'm brought to this place. 'HOME FOR THE HELPLESS DONKEYS.' Now I've many friends, my belly is full and I have shelter from the severe Ladakh winters.”
The caretaker, a local Ladakhi who looks after the sanctuary on his own said that they could only take in around 30 donkeys at a time. Preferences are given to injured and pregnant donkeys. But once they are healed and have given birth they are released back to the open to look after themselves once again. The sanctuary is run on donations and favours shelled out by concerned travellers and animal lovers.
Address of the Donkey Sanctuary:
Home for Helpless Donkeys, Korean Temple Road, Village Khakshal, Leh-Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir - 194101