Chunky Donkeys Pose a Problem

Stop feeding the donkeys … please.
Stop feeding the donkeys … please.

We read a story in the Tradewinds the other day about our beloved island donkeys. It was pretty interesting so we’d thought we’d share it with all of you. Apparently some of these fellas have gotten a bit too fat due to a diet that often includes pastries and a variety of foods fed to them by people. (I admit that I’m guilty too. I used to feed the donkeys years ago, but I have since stopped, and I ask that all of you do too.)

Here’s the story:

“Jenny” Craig Would Probably Cut Pastries from Donkey’s Diet

By St. John Tradewinds News

The good life is getting to at least one of the island’s signature donkey herds.

Living icons of the island’s agricultural past, several small groups of donkeys populate different areas of St. John, and a handful of animals in the most visible small herd which ranges from the Caneel Bay Resort have developed noticeable bulges under the skin of their hind quarters and sides.

The pronounced swelling has extended to the necks of several animals in the herd, which travels between Cruz Bay and Caneel Bay along the North Shore Road, creating large masses along the animals’ spines under their sparse “mane.”

“Fat on Well Fed Donkeys”
The bulges are “fat on well fed donkeys — especially breads and fruits,” according to Virgin Island’s veterinarian Dr. Laura Palminteri of Canines, Cats and Critters. who works on animals large and small in both the U.S. and British Virgin Islands.

From the Tradewinds: The bulges on the necks and bodies of several of the gelded males are fat deposits, according to the island vet Dr. Laura Palminteri and Caneel’s donkey “caretaker” Oriel smith acknowledges some of the donkeys have a weight problem and he is researching an appropriate diet to deal with the problem.
From the Tradewinds: The bulges on the necks and bodies of several of the gelded males are fat deposits, according to the island vet Dr. Laura Palminteri and Caneel’s donkey “caretaker” Oriel smith acknowledges some of the donkeys have a weight problem and he is researching an appropriate diet to deal with the problem.

Oriel Smith, who works for Caneel Bay Resort and cares for the small herd of donkeys which have been habituated to the resort, admits he may be partially responsible.

“The over-weight donkeys that you see are males that have been castrated,” Smith emailed St. John Tradewinds. “While the donkeys are roaming the eastern part of the island they are abused, not fed and lots them are injured, so that is why I try to keep them at Caneel.”

“Not doing a good job at that!” Smith admitted.

It’s not that Smith doesn’t try to entice the donkeys to stay on the resort property.

“On occasion, I give them pastries”
“I feed them grain, hay and, on occasion, I give them pastries from the bake shop,” Smith explained.

“They are probably fed too rich a diet,” admitted Smith, who keeps close tabs on the herd. “Because they do not work, they store the fat.”

“Once they have that fat it is very difficult to get it off,” Smith said. “I am researching ways to get the fat off.”

Fitness and diet diva “Jenny” Craig might recommend Smith cut down on the Caneel Bay pastries in their diet.

Meanwhile, the Bordeaux Mountain and Coral Bay area herds do not appear to have the “fat” problem of the Caneel Bay and North Shore herd.

Of course they don’t.

They aren’t invited to Caneel Bay often…

…and they don’t like the resort’s parking policies for locals.


Donkeys!

Well first off and most importantly, Happy Mother’s Day to all of the moms out there! Now I can’t believe that I, being the donkey-loving girl that I am, missed World Donkey Day last Thursday. (Thank you again to Colleen Becker for for letting me know about this spectacular holiday!)

So today, we’re not only going to pay homage to all of the wonderful moms out there, but we’re also going to celebrate the fabulous little creatures on St. John that simply make us all smile – the donkeys.

Thanks to all of you who sent us pics! Here are some of them:

The rare eight-legged donkey…

Image courtesy of Lynne Littlechild
Image courtesy of Lynne Littlechild

I shouldn’t have had that last drink at St. John Brewers last night…

Image courtesy of Karyn Alexander
Image courtesy of Karyn Alexander

Budget cuts…

Image courtesy of Andrew Sherrill
Image courtesy of Andrew Sherrill

This really is 8 tuff miles…

Image courtesy of Laura Henderson
Image courtesy of Laura Henderson

How can you not love these faces…

Image courtesy of Larry Nix
Image courtesy of Larry Nix
Image courtesy of Marc Premselaar
Image courtesy of Marc Premselaar

Now that’s a good looking groom…

Image courtesy of Amber Mayo
Image courtesy of Amber Mayo

Darn windows…

Image courtesy of Joe Sarianides
Image courtesy of Joe Sarianides

And saving the best for last courtesy of Mr. Steve Simonsen…

Image courtesy of Steve Simonsen
Image courtesy of Steve Simonsen

Meet Oriel Smith: One of Our Island Favorites

Oriel Smith
Oriel Smith

There are some people you meet on St. John that you simply want to hug. You want to invite them over for dinner and you want to become lifelong friends. Oriel Smith is one of those people.

If Oriel’s name sounds familiar to you, it’s because we mentioned him briefly last month in our story about Scotty the donkey. As you may recall, we received an email about an injured donkey over at Cinnamon. We reached out to a few folks who in turn reached out to Oriel. Once Oriel got involved, we knew Scotty would be well taken care of.

So who exactly is Oriel Smith? Well he is, in our opinion, Caneel Bay’s most valued employee. As the director of grounds and landscaping, Oriel’s job is to make Caneel’s grounds look beautiful. It’s also his responsibility to care for the animals who live on the property including the donkeys and deer. And to say he treats these animals with love and compassion is simply an understatement.

I had the privilege of spending some time with Oriel a few weeks back. Together we strolled the grounds of Caneel while he spoke about his 17 years working at the resort. (Oriel’s 17th anniversary was last Friday, so we like to extend a big congrats to him for that.) What struck me during that conversation was just how knowledgable Oriel was about the animals living on Caneel’s property and how much he truly cared for each and every one of them.

For example, Oriel told me a tale of a young donkey named April who was born back in 2008. When Little April, as Oriel called her, was about eight or nine months old, she disappeared from the property. Now it’s not uncommon for the donkeys to wander throughout the island but they always return to where they were born, according to Oriel. So after not seeing Little April for years, Oriel was convinced something had happened to her.

Several years has passed when a new donkey appeared on the property. Oriel knew she looked familiar and soon realized it was April. Oriel was overjoyed that came home. And for those of you who follow Caneel over on Facebook, you may recall see pictures of a little donkey born in early March. That donkey, named Precious, happens to be April’s offspring. (I love stories that have a happy ending.)

Precious - Image credit: Caneel Bay
Precious – Image credit: Caneel Bay

But it’s not just April and Precious that Oriel knows the backstories of. It’s all of the donkeys on property. As we strolled the grounds, he pointed out Buckelfoot who was in a car accident once, Darry, Daniel and more. In total, there are 14 donkeys who currently call Caneel Bay home.

What I found to be the most interesting is that the donkeys we see at Honeymoon Beach one day may be the same ones we see over near Coral Bay a few days later. They simple wander, Oriel said.

“They take North Shore Road just like we do,” Oriel added.

So as Oriel and I walked over to feed the donkeys some hay in their pen that’s tucked away behind the hut at Honeymoon Beach, I asked Oriel one last question: What’s the best part of your job?

“To me its not a job,” Oriel said. “It’s just – I love what I do. And I tell everybody and I might as well tell you all that I have the best job in the world, the most gratifying and the most satisfying.”

Well said Oriel and thank you for all you do.

Donkeys at Caneel

Reason #3,429 Why St. John is So Special (according to Jenn)

Donkeys at Caneel. We're not sure of any of these guys or gals are Scotty, but I'll venture to guess they may be related. :)
Donkeys at Caneel: We’re not sure of any of these guys or gals are Scotty, but I’ll venture to guess they may be related. 🙂

People often ask me what makes St. John so special. Sometimes it’s hard to put into words just how special this place is. For me, it’s a combination of the people and the sheer beauty of the island. Yesterday, however, the inner beauty and actions of several island residents overtook the island’s charm in a big way. Here’s what happened:

I received an email around 1:30 p.m. yesterday from a woman named Shannon. Shannon has lived in the Virgin Islands for more than 20 years. After a brief time off island, Shannon recently returned to St. John. (That in itself makes us happy.)

Here’s what she wrote:

“We were out at Cinnamon on Saturday and noticed (along with some other concerned folk) that a donkey was limping really bad and then retreated to the trees behind the sailboats there by the beach rentals and just laid down for most of the afternoon. Apparently these tourists had noticed this some days prior and called the National Park Ranger who then came in that afternoon to look at the donkey. The tourists told us that he had planned to have ‘someone’ from St. Thomas come on Monday to sedate him and take a look, it appeared to him that the donkey simply had something stuck in his hoof.”

Shannon continued, “Well, we went to Cinnamon again yesterday and much to our dismay the poor donkey was still laying in the trees behind the sailboats. Another donkey has taken up residence to soothe him or her. It’s so sad.”

Shannon then mentioned how she notified the National Park Service and asked if we could help. Naturally we said we would.

We first reached out to Thomas Kelly, the Natural Resources Manager at the National Park Service. Within an hour, we heard back from Thomas who confirmed that the NPS was aware of the donkey’s injury. He stated that they had hoped the injury would have taken care of itself as these types of injuries typically do. Thomas thanked us for reaching out to him, and we knew that NPS would follow up.

In the meantime, we contacted Leslie McKibben. Leslie is the newest board member of the Animal Care Center. I explained the issue to Leslie and asked her to reach out to fellow board member Oriel Smith. Oriel works at Caneel Bay Resort and takes care of the property’s many animals, including a number of donkeys.

As luck would have it, the ACC was having a board meeting last night. About an hour later, Leslie informed me that the donkey “will be taken care of.” I was ecstatic.

Leslie spoke with Oriel who stated the donkey’s name was Scotty. Scotty the donkey used to live over at Caneel, according to Oriel, before moving over to Cinnamon. Fortunately Oriel knows this particular donkey well and is planning on checking in on him today, Thursday. Oriel also plans to contact a local vet to assist in treatment, Leslie said.

So in a matter of hours, several people worked together to help an injured donkey. Acts of kindness like this don’t happen everywhere. But they happen on St. John and they happen often. It doesn’t matter if it is a person in need or an animal in need, you can guarantee that the people of St. John will work together to help. And that, my friends, is what makes this place so special.

Update: Thursday at 1:15 p.m.

We just got off the phone with Thomas Kelly from NPS. He told us that a biologist from NPS checked in on the donkey after our conversation yesterday. The biologist reported that the donkey was up and walking around and that he appeared to be suffering from old age more so than anything else. He used binoculars to inspect all four hooves and did not see any external injuries. So perhaps Scotty the donkey was simply looking for some quiet time…

Update: Thursday evening

Oriel Smith paid a visit to Scotty today also. Oriel helped Scotty out a bit and expects him to be back to his old self again really soon. 🙂

A picture of Scotty taken on Thursday afternoon - Image courtesy of Oriel Smith
A picture of Scotty taken on Thursday afternoon – Image courtesy of Oriel Smith

St. John: The Wildest and Most Pristine of the USVI

caneel bay donkey st john usvi
caneel bay donkey st john usvi
Image credit: Amy Laughinghouse, For The Philadelphia Inquirer

This article just appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer. We liked it so much, we thought we would share it with all of you. We’re sure you’ll enjoy reading it just as much as we did.

St. John, the Virgin Island’ Wild Child

By Amy Laughinghouse, For The Philadelphia Inquirer

ST. JOHN, U.S. Virgin Islands – I’m lying face down in a spa cabana at Caneel Bay resort, gazing absently into a bowl of fragrant blossoms. The door is open just enough to admit the serenade of the surf and the softly filtered sunlight of the sultry Caribbean morning.

Cheryl, a masseuse with startling blue eyes accentuated by a deep tan, is gently working out the knots I’ve accumulated through work and travel. In less than an hour, she transforms me from a bag of aching bones to a blissed-out beach bunny ready to relax and take on – well, as little as possible during my 10-day stay on St. John.

This is arguably the wildest and most pristine of the U.S. Virgin Islands, and that legacy of feral beauty began right here, at Caneel Bay, where philanthropist and conservationist Laurance Rockefeller originally built a house as a private retreat. He grew so fond of St. John’s tangled jungle of hills and white crescent beaches that he bought up huge swaths of land, which later formed the basis of the Virgin Islands National Park.

At the resort itself, which features just 166 rooms on 170 acres, you’re more likely to encounter herds of deer and donkeys than another human. Throw in a few mongooses and leaf-munching iguanas, and it’s practically a free-range zoo.

While it’s tempting to simply remain at Caneel Bay and play castaway, this is an island that’s made for exploration, as I’ve discovered over more than a half-dozen visits these last 12 years.

Cruz Bay, the main port, hardly qualifies as the big city, with free-range hens shepherding their chicks along a zigzag maze of roads. But it offers enough shops and bars and restaurants to put a dent in your wallet and add an inch to your waistline.

Pick a perch at the Beach Bar, where you can gaze out over the sailboats that fill the harbor while sipping a Painkiller – a potent combination of rum, fruit juice, and nutmeg that will certainly leave you feeling no pain, until the inevitable hangover the next morning. Woody’s is another well-known watering hole, with a couple of plastic tables on the sidewalk (to call it a “terrace” would be overstating it) that provide front-row seats for first-rate tourist-watching. For a splurge, head to the hilltop Asolare and try an aptly named Honey Badger martini, which packs a bite worthy of its name.

Of course, St. John’s best attraction is its 30-plus beaches. These range from the “Mermaid’s Chair,” a beach barely big enough for two that my friends and I visit on a catamaran trip one afternoon, to the sugary expanse of Cinnamon Bay. The quirkiest is Drunk Bay, a remote rocky beach where visitors – perhaps fueled by fruity umbrella drinks, lending the place its name – create whimsical sculptures of mermaids, pirates, and cowboys from coral and coconuts.

As stunning as St. John’s coastline is above water, more surreal scenery lurks beneath the waves. Trunk Bay – which CNN.com recently ranked No. 48 on its list of the world’s 100 best beaches – features an underwater snorkel trail, where I spot eels, reef squid, and a stingray hovering like a spacecraft above the sandy bottom.

At Waterlemon Cay, while swimming in a spectral cloud of shiny silversides, I notice a 4-foot-long, missile-shaped fish just yards away. From my panicked reaction, anyone would have assumed I was an ill-fated extra from Jaws.

Fortunately, my friends, both experienced divers, assure me it’s only a harmless tarpon. (Well, harmless to humans, at least. The silversides it swallowed would probably beg to differ.)

Undeterred by echoes of “You’re gonna need a bigger boat,” we sign up for a kayak tour (very small boats indeed) with Hidden Reef Eco-Tours. Our guide, Jennifer Russ, not only knows some of the best snorkeling spots around the island, but she’s also a bit of an expert on St. John’s flora and fauna as well.

“Oooh, that’s a Pseudosphinx caterpillar,” she coos, eyeing a plump yellow, black, and red critter suctioned to a piece of coral at Haulover Bay, where we meet. “He’s poisonous,” she notes cheerfully, pushing sunglasses atop a mass of long black curls.

Of course, this creepy-crawly sounds positively cuddly compared to the manchineel tree, which Russ points out next to her stand of kayaks. Eating the fruit can be fatal, earning it the nickname “Death Apple,” and its sap triggers terrible blisters.

Leaving caustic caterpillars and flesh-melting manchineels behind, we paddle for perhaps half an hour, slicing through blue waters before Russ directs us to beach the kayaks. As we slip into the water in masks, fins, and snorkels, a pair of butterfly fish engage in a courtly dance just below, and rainbow-colored parrot fish crunch loudly on the reef.

But the climax of our afternoon is the sea turtle that emerges like a shadow from the deep-blue fathoms. Gliding through the sea, he’s the Dalai Lama of the depths, the very essence of serenity.

I reckon he’s just had a massage.

Amy Laughinghouse is a London-based freelance travel writer. You can read more of her work at www.AmyLaughinghouse.com