[Ed. Note: Update, sad news, February 2011: Parasailing Donkey Dies]
By Bee Friedlander, Animals and Society Institute (ASI)
Until a couple of weeks ago, I thought donkey basketball was the worst indignity visited upon this gentle species in the guise of sport and entertainment for us humans. Then came the report from Russia about the parasailing donkey. And, as I have discovered while writing this story today, the indignities - and worse - are continuing.
Last month, an "entrepreneur" in a southern Russian resort on the Sea of Azov forced a female donkey to parasail above the water, a publicity stunt to attract customers to a private beach club. Video footage captures images of the terrified donkey being held down and strapped to a parachute before being catapulted into the air. Observers report that the donkey brayed and screamed in fright during the half-hour ordeal. In a landing that one source called "even more terrible," she crashed into the sea and was dragged through the water and almost drowned. Bystanders pulled the trembling animal from the water. (Photo above: Taman News/AFP).
Although the beach-goers contacted the local press and reached for their cameras, no one thought to call the police as the "stunt" was going on. Reports say that children were upset by the spectacle and the donkey's obvious misery, and that the donkey was flying so high, about 120 feet above the sea, that she was mistaken for a dog. "Why did they tie a doggy to a parachute," one paper reports the children asking.
The incident has continued to generate publicity. Here's a rough timeline of events since the July 15 incident:
- Approximately one week later, Russian authorities announce that no criminal charges would be brought against the donkey's tormenters. "'We are not going to bring criminal charges because a vet examined the donkey and concluded it was clinically healthy,'" said spokeswoman Dina Goncharova. She was "‘still very friendly' and had not become frightened of humans as a result of her ordeal, according to those now caring for the animal."
- On about July 22, the Rupert Murdoch-owned British tabloid The Sun, becomes part of the story by purchasing the donkey named Anapka, and beginning a series of stories with headlines such as "We've Saved her Ass from Cruel Treatment," (July 23); "Good Looking Ass," (August 6); and "Donkey Gets ‘Tsar' Treatment," (August 1). The stories are accompanied by pictures showing the animal with a blanket sporting the Sun's red and white logo.
- July 27: The Sun announces that the coach of England's Tottenham Hotspur football club and animal lover Harry Redknapp wants to bring Anapka to a sanctuary that he's opening, telling the paper that he came close to tears as her read about Anapka's ordeal: "'I am sickened by the actions of the scumbag who treated Anapka so badly.'"
- Early August: Transported 1200 miles to Moscow, Anapka is lodged at the prestigious Kremlin School of Riding and examined by a veterinarian.
- August 4: Anapka, still in Moscow, is paraded around Red Square.
- August 6: Today's edition of The Sun reports that Anapka has been "pampered like a Hollywood star" (details here).
If at this point you are thinking to yourself something like: "Happy ending, despite the rather transparent and shameless use of the donkey by The Sun as its own publicity stunt," well, not so fast.
Today, as I am writing this piece, it is being reported by another UK paper that The Sun bought the wrong donkey, and that the donkey subjected to abuse is still with the man who engineered the parasailing scheme.
According to an article posted 8/6/10:
The real four-legged victim, it said, was a donkey called Manya, and she remains by the Black Sea while Anapka - a fake, sold to the Sun for 70,000 roubles (£1,500) - revels in luxury. Vasily Gorobets, who set up the flying stunt at Golubitskaya on the Sea of Azov in southern Russia in mid July, and was pilloried by the Sun as a result, said the genuine protagonist was safe at home. 'I can't believe they didn't notice the trick,' he added. 'Manya's with me and I'm guarding her closely. I wouldn't give her away for anything.' Gorobets said Manya was safe and none the worse for her 30-metre high ride above the sea. 'She's well. Donkeys aren't afraid of heights. I put her into the sky to give her a richer life.'
(Emphasis added. Note that this article from July 26, by a rival UK newspaper refers to the donkey as Manya).
After authorities announced last month that no charges will be brought, Katharine Mansell, of The World Society for the Protection of Animals, said:
Unfortunately, there are next to no animal welfare protection laws in Russia - as in many countries around the world. As a result, animals there are incredibly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. The biggest themes we keep seeing in our cruelty reports are linked to tourism. And while people think there is money to be made from exploiting animals for tourist cash, they will carry on doing so. The parasailing donkey stunt is one of the more unbelievable forms of animal exploitation for tourism that the WSPA has heard of.
And sadly, it appears that this donkey is still being exploited.