The Karpaz Peninsula is the long finger of land that extends north east into the sea towards Turkey. It is a wonderfully scenic and unspoiled area, and offers a landscape that feels as though it hasn’t changed much in the last 1000 years or more. We always manage a day or two up here on a visit to north Cyprus and our normal tour around will be a blog topic for another day. This time I want to focus on one particular reason to visit: the wild donkeys or asses of the Karpaz.
Traditionally and for thousands of years donkeys were a vital part of the island’s economy. Each family would have one or two, owned for their superior carrying strength. A donkey can carry far more weight than a horse and so were useful for hauling harvests of olives, potatoes and other goods to market or to the mills. Portraits of donkeys have been found in Cypriot tombs dating back to the 7th century B.C. and there is even evidence to suggest that the donkeys existed on Cyprus before the island split off from the mainland. Certainly the donkeys seem to share genetics and heritage with the Wild African Ass. They are bigger, stronger and have a blacker coat than the smaller, grey European donkeys.
It is not unusual to still see the odd donkey in use on rural farms but they have largely been replaced by tractors since the early 1970s and many were abandoned in 1974 when the island was divided. In an effort to protect them and appease farmers whose crops they were eating, large numbers were relocated to the Karpaz. At one point there were thousands of them although modern estimates seem to now hover between around 1200 and 500. The terrain is wild and so it is difficult to be sure.
In any case, they seem to be very happy in their new home, a protected area of the Karpaz, to the east of the town of Dipkarpaz, a natural heritage area, home to many species of wildlife. A visit will usually produce many sightings of the donkeys and they are easy to spot. They like to eat the bushes which grow wild there but food is being left for them at roadside spots near the Apostolos Andreas Monastery which is within the protected area so there are nearly always some there.
These are wild donkeys so must be viewed as unpredictable although I have seen people out of their cars feeding them and we have had countless face to face encounters ourselves without any sign of aggression. If you take them some fruit and veg, they will undoubtedly eat it!!!!! With my UK goggles on I worry about them hanging about the road but…… it must be said….. the road at this point is little more than a track with large sections unpaved and very little traffic on it other than visitors to the monastery, so hopefully they are safe enough.
To visit the donkeys, drive to Dipkarpaz, the last villiage of the peninsula. Take the right turn road from the village centre and follow signs for the Apostolos Andreas Monastery. The road will run along beside the sea, passing some wonderful beaches like Golden Sands, and small coves with little eco hotels. Keep going. You may see donkeys in the fields on either side from this point on. You will go up a steep hill with a fantastic viewpoint over the beaches. Keep going a little further and you will enter the gate into the fenced region of the protected area. The bushes at this point come down to the track on either side or it is in this stretch that you are most likely to encounter the donkeys. The road continues all the way to the monastery, a few more miles. Beyond the monastery it peters out into a walking track to land’s end.