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The Donkey Sanctuary
FounderElisabeth Svendsen
FocusAnimal Welfare
Area served
United Kingdom
MethodVeterinary Care,
animal sanctuaries,
popular education
Key people
Robert Crawford, Professor Jim Duncan
Stuart W. J. Reid, John Sewell-Rutter
Bill Tetlow, Cathy Thompson
Rosalind de Wesselow
£37m (2017)

The Donkey Sanctuary is a British charitable organisation devoted to the welfare of donkeys. The charity, which is based near Sidmouth in Devon, England, was founded in 1969. It is one of the largest equine charities in the world with an annual income and expenditure of £37 million.[1][2]


The Donkey Sanctuary was founded in 1969 by Elisabeth Svendsen. It was registered as a charity in 1973.

Svendsen was prompted to start the sanctuary following a visit to Exeter Market when she saw seven small donkeys crammed into a small pen. After she tried unsuccessfully to buy the donkey in the worst condition, she decided that instead of breeding donkeys she would try and save them.

By 1973 Svendsen was caring for 38 donkeys. In June 1974, she received a phone call from a solicitor who was the Executor of the Estate of the late Miss Violet Philpin who had been running the Helping Hand Animal Welfare League Donkey Sanctuary near Reading, Berkshire. The solicitor explained that Svendsen had been left a legacy of 204 donkeys. At that time advertisements were appearing regularly in UK publications appealing for financial support for Violet Philpin's Donkey Sanctuary to the extent that the name Violet Philpin became very familiar in Britain with the care and welfare of donkeys.

After the UK Charity Commission allowed the two charities to merge, the Donkey Sanctuary purchased Slade House Farm near Sidmouth in south Devon. Since then more than 14,500 have passed through the Donkey Sanctuary's gates in the UK and Ireland. The charity operates in UK, Ireland and mainland Europe. It also conducts international operations in Africa and Asia. In 1980 Svendsen was made an MBE for her services to animal welfare.

In 2010, the charity faced re-homing problems as a result of the recession. It made an appeal for people to volunteer to provide foster homes for its donkeys.[3]

The Donkey Sanctuary is managed by seven trustees who are responsible for the charity, its assets and activities. In 2011, the Donkey Sanctuary founder Elisabeth Svendsen died aged 81.[4]

Animal welfare


The Donkey Sanctuary also provides a permanent home to more than 4,000 donkeys. Currently there are sanctuaries, holding bases and foster homes in nine European countries: United Kingdom, Ireland, Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Romania and Spain.

Many donkeys arrive at the charity because they are unwanted or have been neglected. But others are donated because of health reasons, companionship or the owner's circumstances have changed. More than 40 welfare officers offer advice and support to donkeys owners throughout the UK. They also investigate reports of cruelty or neglect, monitor markets and fairs selling equines and check the well-being of all working donkeys. As part of this work, the charity organises an annual competition to find the best beach donkeys. In 2009 the winner was the town of Filey.[5]


A feeding shelter, established by the Donkey Sanctuary in 1987, in Lamu, Kenya.
A feeding shelter, established by the Donkey Sanctuary in 1987, in Lamu, Kenya.

The sanctuary operates major projects in Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, and Mexico. Support in these countries includes free mobile veterinary clinics and education for donkey owners, children and veterinary surgeons and students. By funding local teams including veterinary surgeons and education officers, the charity administered over 300,000 treatments to working donkeys annually.

During their visit to a mobile clinic, the donkeys are given a full health check. Their teeth and hooves are tended and wounds are treated. Free advice and support is also given to their owners. Mobile clinics are fully equipped with all the veterinary supplies needed to treat most donkeys on-site.

Common problems for donkeys arriving at the clinics include signs of exhaustion, malnutrition and ailments of the teeth and feet. Donkeys may also be infested with worms or lice or have open wounds caused by poor harnessing or whipping. Injuries from road traffic accidents are also increasingly common and in some areas, terrible wounds can be inflicted by packs of dogs or hyenas, particularly to young foals. In Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Kenya and Mexico, the Donkey Sanctuary provides services in remote areas with high donkey populations.

International Donkey Week

Every year The Donkey Sanctuary holds this unique event, many local accommodation providers participate in the event (contributing a donation to the sanctuary) when people come from far and wide to participate in the week long program of activities.[6]

Educational work

The charity trains vets, vet students and animal health assistants within project countries to improve the treatment given to donkeys. Its book The Professional Handbook of the Donkey is sent to vets throughout the world. Overseas teams have also developed a children's donkey welfare education programme that includes puppet shows, talks, cartoon sheets and story books. Its purpose is to make children learn more about the basic welfare and needs of donkeys.

Elisabeth Svendsen Trust for Children and Donkeys

In 1989 the Elisabeth Svendsen Trust for Children and Donkeys was established to assist children with special needs lead a fuller life through interaction with donkeys.[7] The trust, which offers free Donkey Assisted life skills sessions, caters for more than 150 children a week. It operates from the sanctuary's main site in Sidmouth and through its other centres across the UK.[8]

Slade House Farm

The main headquarters of the Donkey Sanctuary in Devon is open to the public 365 days a year from 9.00am to dusk with free admission and parking. The charity estimates that more than 200,000 people visited the site in 2009.[9] Donkeys of all ages live at the farm but a large percentage are elderly animals that remain there in order to be close to the veterinary hospital.

In 2009 a film entitled The Donkey Sanctuary, 40 years on... was produced and narrated by Elisabeth Svendsen.[10]

See also


  1. ^ "264818 - The Donkey Sanctuary - Data for financial year ending 31 December 2017". Charity Commission for England and Wales. 31 December 2017. Retrieved 23 February 2019.
  2. ^ "Animal views". The Washington Post. 16 August 2010. Archived from the original on 25 August 2010. Retrieved 16 December 2010.
  3. ^ Walrond, Jenny (26 July 2010). "Donkey sanctuary inundated as recession bites". BBC News Online. Retrieved 16 December 2010.
  4. ^ Lacey, Hester (24 May 2011). "Elisabeth Svendsen obituary". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
  5. ^ "The best donkeys in Britain". Filey Mercury. Johnston Press. 31 October 2009. Retrieved 16 December 2010.
  6. ^ "Events". The Donkey Sanctuary. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
  7. ^ "The Elisabeth Svendsen Trust for Children and Donkeys". The Charity Commission, Central Register of Charities for England and Wales. Retrieved 5 April 2007.
  8. ^ "Profile of the Elisabeth Svendsen Trust for Children and Donkeys". Intelligent Giving. Retrieved 5 April 2007.
  9. ^ "Annual Review 2009" (pdf). The Donkey Sanctuary. 2010. Retrieved 16 December 2010.
  10. ^ The Donkey Sanctuary. "Trustees Report And Accounts 2017" (PDF).

Coordinates: 50°41′50″N 3°11′26″W / 50.6973°N 3.1905°W / 50.6973; -3.1905