Erriff is a male model. He is photographed with great regularity. His name is taken from that of the Erriff river which flows over a waterfall called Aashleagh falls. The falls are the centerpiece of a rugged, unspoiled landscape which attracts tourists to its beauty. The river flows into the only true fjord in Ireland, Killary harbour. Fjords are more often associated with Norway where the Vikings come from.
I watched the hordes disembark from the modern equivalent of a Viking long-ship – a Volvo tour bus. Erriff moves down the fence accepting biscuits and posing; the closer the pose the more biscuits; the more biscuits the more he stays by the fence. The more time spent by the fence the more worn and trampled the grass and the worse his conditions appear. Ignored is the shrubbery and herbage behind him. While it might not look appetizing it is actually good high fibrous material, perfect food for a donkey. But Erriff is hooked on a high sugar diet that can only come from his admirers.
Donkey Welfare Advisers come across similar situations regularly. A donkey gets food from tourists, school children or walkers. The donkeys starts to ignore his grass and spends more time by the roadway fence waiting for his “sugar fix”. However, it gets worse, the human offers food to get the donkey to come up to the fence so they can pet the donkey. The donkey now associates the human hand with food and sooner or later he bits an outstretched hand. He is now labelled an aggressive donkey.
Erriff was not micro-chipped and local inquiries did not yield any owner. The landowner did not own any donkeys and clearly did not want Erriff either. Later he was found on the public road so his predicament was now demanded urgent action. He was signed over to us by the Department of Agriculture and transport was immediately organised. Erriff said goodbye to his scenic home and traded it for a more normal life with other donkeys for company. He is not worried that the tourists have flown home for the winter, his future is now secure.
When I too took his picture, he looked into the lens of my camera, tilted his head and it does not take too much imagination to hear him say “because I’m worth it”.