Home Editorial Competing for The Tourist Dollar – What is It They’re After?

Competing for The Tourist Dollar – What is It They’re After?


It’s an arid island not far from the coast of Venezuela part of the Dutch West Indies. Anachronism from colonial exploitation of resources in the New World where European conquistadors decimated indigenous populations seeking gold and precious resources to fuel their widespread wars and royal extravaganzas. Slave quarters remain on Bonaire. A salt flat gives enterprise to that industry. Clear, warm Caribbean waters beckon dive enthusiasts.

By John Christopher Fine

The island itself is a bare rock. Sparse vegetation grows, cactus predominates. Some locals eat iguana lizards savoring their tails. A herd of rare donkeys, related to the Nubian ass, roam the island. Flamingos perch on one leg in salt flats. The one commodity, a species that does not seem to be endangered, smear sun tan lotion on and look for a place to swim. Nothing on Bonaire offered real coral sand beaches thus sand has been spread by a hotel or two to create a beach.

Casinos attract gamblers. For gamblers the glitter of neighboring Aruba and Curacao sate their goad for gain. Bonaire’s casinos can n’ere compete. Divers come for the grandeur of nature’s bounty beneath the sea. Most have been touted to visit Bonaire because of its caring concern for the marine environment, flamingos and donkeys. Unlimited shore diving, despite the fact that rental cars must be left unlocked since criminals abound, likewise seeking the tourist dollar, is offered by most every resort. Diving around the small island Klein Bonaire holds fascination as the island is a preserve where spearing fish and environmental dilemmas that beset other islands with burgeoning populations beyond which the ecology cannot handle, is prevented.

Divers cannot stay underwater forever. They want to see and experience the island. Why do donkeys on Bonaire eat potato chips? Of course they have become a fascination for tourists. Tourists become careless and often lack common sense. Bonaire is not exempt from silly antics by tourists interacting with land and marine creatures. On a trip to Bonaire long ago, a diver took a can of cheese spread below and squirted it at fish. He should have saved it for chips he likely fed donkeys.

Potato chips not withstanding, donkeys eat. Their residue becomes fertilizer. Some wander free and before a rather aggressive program to castrate males and confine seven hundred to what it called a sanctuary on the island, in actuality a zoo, their freedom was assured as was their survival as a species. Bonaire’s donkeys like America’s wild horses are considered feral since they were once imported by colonists for work then left wild to breed. Bonaire’s donkeys were not native to the land before white colonialization. In the U.S. wild horses died out some ten thousand years before Europeans ventured across the Atlantic.

Humans have become sorcerers on a grand scale. We try to adjust nature to suit our needs. An adjustment here, a change over there. All this without understanding the overall worth of nature’s own pattern for life. Look at the world around us? If a seven billion world population is looming everything else must be considered endangered.

How many times have we heard denigration of people that seek to find common sense solutions to environmental issues. “Tree huggers,” maybe that’s not so bad. How about “donkey lovers.” Al Catalfumo is a diver and dive instructor. He first traveled to Bonaire with dive groups in 1974. He sometimes took as many as 70 divers per trip. From taking dive groups from his dive shop Divers Cove in Laurence Harbor, New Jersey, Al slowly began a transition and moved to Bonaire in 1980. He founded Black Durgeon Inn on Bonaire as a diver’s resort. He was a close friend of Captain Don Stewart, the legendary Captain Don of Bonaire. Al is a donkey lover.

Boat moorings so anchors would not damage coral, conservation efforts and laws protecting marine resources on Bonaire were not always in place. Men like Captain Don and Al Catalfumo along with enlightened government officials from the Netherlands, patriarchs of the island, saw nature husbanded.

Why not? Everybody likes money. Tourists bring money. They would not travel to Bonaire to see a sewage treatment plant. They can see those at home where oceans have been used as an all purpose dump. There are many reasonable reasons and ready-made excuses people use to do or not to do something. “No, you cannot go there. You cannot do that, our insurance does not allow it, will not cover it.” You’ve heard them all.

The late, legendary New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia interviewed a young lawyer. The lawyer sought a position as counsel to the Mayor. “Are you a hot lawyer or a cold lawyer?” Mayor LaGuardia asked the young man. He was perplexed until the Mayor explained: “When I want to do something I call my hot lawyer. When I don’t want to do it, I call my cold lawyer.”

If you want the donkeys there are good, substantial, environmentally sound reasons to keep them free and wild. Animal husbandry is not a new science. Population can be controlled without draconian measures. If you do not want the donkeys, you have your excuse when some drunk hits one with his car and causes a stir. Others will advocate that they are nice to have yet they eat the island bare and disrupt biodiversity. I’ve never seen a donkey eat a flamingo yet and as for Bonaire’s iguanas they have to protect their own tails.

Conservation and nature groups, Bonaire’s Donkey Protection League and We Care for Bonaire have proposed solutions. Despite these good intentions the nays are winning. Any organization that gets money, governmental aid and sanction, foundation grants or tourist dollars by contributions or from admissions and sale of T-shirts, will be loath to give that up. Somebody has power, gets money for being in power and has a raison-d’etre with a repertoire to sing about as visitors listen to their goody-goody success story.

Don’t argue. Keep donkeys wild and free on Bonaire. Most tourists will comply with good sense and eat their own potato chips. Live and let live.