It’s no secret that I have a massive love for animals and every time we travel I seem to make furry friends wherever we go. In fact, my doctor always recommends that I get a rabies shot whenever we travel because, whether I’m living with lions in South Africa, saying hello to street dogs in India, cuddling flea ridden kittens in Fiji, or doing my usual job of volunteering at London Zoo, absolutely nothing can keep me away from animals.
So when I started my research on Marrakech and came across Jarjeer Mules, a retirement home and care centre for donkeys just a short drive out of the city, there was no doubt in my mind that we had to go.
I had already heard all about the animals in Marrakech – the snake charmers that frequent the main square, Jemna el Fna, and the monkeys that are paraded around dressed up in clothes and shackled in chains for tourists to have photos with. Why anyone would want a photo holding a monkey with a chain around its neck, who is made to sit out in the sun for hours every day or holed up in a tiny cage, I have absolutely no idea. Let alone the fact that you have to then tip the local for the photo. I would rather my time and money went to a much more worthwhile cause where the animals are treated kindly, and the look on my face made this absolutely clear to any local who came anywhere near me with one of these poor monkeys!
There are also plenty of horses and carriages (caleche) around the city giving tourists and locals rides, but I was glad to hear that the horses are checked over every six months by the animal welfare charity SPANA, to make sure they’re fit, healthy and are being treated well. Unfortunately, the mules don’t yet get the same treatment and they’re often overworked throughout their whole lives, pulling heavy loads in the dusty heat, until they are too old to work and are of no use to their owners anymore.
This is why I loved the sound of Jarjeer Mules so much. Run by Sue and Charles, a British couple who retired to Morocco where they built their dream home, they took in Tommy, a little orphaned donkey and, a few years later, they have somehow ended up with a countless number of donkeys and mules, Daisy and Buttercup the curious cows, and 11 dogs including their own 2 little Yorkshire Terriers from home and Rosa the three-legged dog who hopped about keeping watch over the donkeys. Mr Ayla could tell straight away what I was thinking – sounds like the perfect retirement to me!
As soon as we stepped out of the car outside their beautiful home amid the dusty orange Moroccan desert, we were surrounded by all the barking and yapping dogs, clearly excited to see visitors. Mr Ayla, always a little wary of dogs, despite the fact that he has cleaned out an enclosure full of almost fully grown lions in South Africa, was thankful when Sue came out to greet us and took us straight over to meet the donkeys.
We wandered around, Sue telling us a bit about each of the animals and how they ended up at Jarjeer. It seems that people send sick and injured donkeys here from all over Morocco thanks to all their hard work! It was so lovely to see that these animals, who probably haven’t been treated too well for most of their lives, have ended up in this haven where they can eat to their hearts’ content, play with the other donkeys and live out the rest of their lives being cared for.
It was hard to see some of the animals who were clearly unwell and extremely malnourished, such as Gus who had only recently arrived when we visited. He was blind in one eye and had so much trouble standing that he had to wear thick cushioned casts around his legs to help keep him up, thanks to the wears and tears of a life constantly pulling heavy loads on his feet every day.
Some of the animals were still a little hesitant around people and didn’t like to be touched but others were so friendly it was as if they had never worked a hard day in their life and had no fear of people at all. They obviously recognised and loved the people who looked after them and they welcomed plenty of cuddles from us and we were complete strangers.
Even Gus loved hugs despite being so poorly and I think Mr Ayla took a bit of a shine to him.
Boris and Palex, a cheeky father and son duo, were especially affectionate and they kept following me around, nudging my bottom for attention every time I stopped stroking them for a minute. I did not want to leave them behind. They were pretty small donkeys; I’m sure I could somehow get them back to London.
After spending the day here and seeing how much passion Sue, Charles and the other workers all had for the animals, we knew they were all in safe hands here and would always be looked after. I left hoping to return again soon, already planning my retirement, and wishing there were more people in the world who would show this sort of kindness to animals.
Thank you to Sue and Charles for inviting us into their home and introducing us to all the animals. It’s an amazing project and we’re planning on coming back soon!
Have you been to an amazing place for animals like this anywhere else in the world? Let me know (because I obviously want to go there!) in the comments below or at: