Four donkey foals thrive in sanctuary home after rescue of abandoned mares

Tweety, Milana, Sora and Bluebird are living at Donkey Sanctuary Ireland in Co Cork.

Foal Sora with Donkey Sanctuary Ireland farm groom Vicky Lewis .
Foal Sora with Donkey Sanctuary Ireland farm groom Vicky Lewis .

Four donkey foals born after their malnourished mothers were rescued from an abandoned herd are now thriving at their sanctuary home.

Tweety, Milana, Sora and Bluebird have become part of the family at Donkey Sanctuary Ireland in Mallow, Co Cork less than a year after the discovery of the badly neglected group of donkeys in a field in Co Galway.

Four of the animals in the herd were in such bad condition that they had to be put down on site.

Among the group, the Donkey Sanctuary team identified four pregnant mares, three of which already had young foals, as the donkeys in most need of urgent care and all seven animals were transported down to one of the charity’s farms in Cork.

Unfortunately, one of the mares, Linnet, died shortly after giving birth, to Milana, requiring staff at the sanctuary to bottle feed the young foal in her early weeks of life.

Orphaned foal Milana feeding from her automatic feeder .
Orphaned foal Milana feeding from her automatic feeder .

Orphaned Milana has however since developed a close bond with mare Starling and her foal Tweety, and the trio now spend all their time together.

Head of Donkey Welfare at the sanctuary, Cathy Griffin, said the outlook for the four young foals would have been very bleak if the abandoned herd had not been reported.

“There are foals there that if we hadn’t intervened, the likelihood is that none of them would have survived where they were, because their mothers were all compromised and they certainly weren’t going to be getting the specialist vet care that they needed when they were born with us,” she said.

“So, we likely would have been lucky if any of them had survived and now, because of our intervention, they get to live out their life, knowing nothing but kindness and what good donkey welfare is and enjoy their lives.

“And it would be nice to think that they perhaps then could go back out on our rehoming scheme and give somebody else the pleasure of having lovely donkeys as pets and give something back in that way.

“But, either way, they’ll have us looking out for them for the rest of their lives.

“So, they’ve kind of won the donkey lottery in a way.”

Donkey Sanctuary Ireland is currently at full capacity and can only offer care for other animals in exceptional circumstances.

Ms Griffin said many other animal charities in Ireland are in a similar situation, finding it hard to deal with increasing demand for its services amid mounting budget pressures.

“I suppose the real thought I’d have is I know these four are really lucky foals, but we don’t have space for the next foal that needs help and what’s going to happen to it?” she said.

“And that’s a worry that we carry all the time. You know, what about the next pregnant mare and the next foal and all of the rescues are full, all of the animal charities are on their knees struggling with the numbers of animals, whether it’s dogs or donkeys or horses, we’re all in the same boat, and something has got to change.”

She added: “The foals they are beautiful and everybody wants to go and cuddle them and spend time with them. They’re amazing animals and we’re delighted that they’re healthy now and doing well and, you know, they’re part of the Donkey Sanctuary family now.

“But from a practical sense, the amount of work and resources that have gone into these donkeys is just huge, from staff having to come in during the night to check on them and feed the little orphan foal throughout the night.

“It puts such a huge pressure on the resources of a charity that’s already struggling with the number of donkeys they have.”

Bluebird, one of the four foals born from the abandoned herd found in Co Galway .
Bluebird, one of the four foals born from the abandoned herd found in Co Galway .

With space at the sanctuary at a premium, the charity is now placing enhanced focus on prevention and community-based solutions to try to reduce the number of neglect and abandonment cases.

This year it undertook 13% more welfare calls out in the community and also performed around 100 donkey castrations, up 30% on 2022, in a bid to tackle unplanned breeding.

The sanctuary says this proactive approach in the community is designed to reduce the number of donkeys that will ultimately need sanctuary, making the welfare crisis more manageable going forward.

Ms Griffin explained the charity’s rationale.

“It’s trying to get in early now, to educate and help people understand what donkeys need, try and help people understand donkeys are not native to Ireland, they evolved to live in a desert environment, so when they’re in this country, where it’s the complete opposite environment, you have to make certain changes to how you keep them, how you feed them, how you care for them,” she said.

“And, if you do that, they have a really nice life. If you don’t, they’ll suffer, and it’s just helping people to understand all that.”

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