The Donkey Sanctuary celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2019. It was founded by Dr Elisabeth Svendsen MBE, who dedicated her life to championing donkeys. It has grown from a charity rescuing UK donkeys from neglect and abuse, to an international animal welfare organisation transforming the lives of millions of donkeys and mules, and the people who depend on them for their livelihood.


Its international headquarters in Sidmouth is also a visitor site. In 2018 alone, it received over 350,000 visitors, establishing itself as a major visitor destination and winning a gold award in the prestigious 2018 Devon Tourism Awards. 


The Sidmouth sanctuary is one of six regional centres around the UK, with a network of other sanctuaries and holding bases around the UK and Europe, providing a home to thousands of donkeys and mules.


The charity operates six dedicated donkey-facilitated learning centres in the UK. The donkey-facilitated learning programme was developed from Dr Svendsen’s donkey-assisted therapy, and now benefits adults as well as children with additional needs, focusing on developing their key life skills such as self-esteem, managing emotions and empathy.


A state-of-the-art veterinary hospital near Honiton was opened in 2017 and treats sick donkeys, both inside and outside the charity’s care. Here, training is also provided to animal welfare officers and vets from across the world.

Those who have visited the sanctuary in Sidmouth would not have failed to notice its delightful setting, with views stretching down to the Jurassic Coast. The Donkey Sanctuary occupies over 1,200 acres of farmland in Devon and Dorset, most of which falls within the rolling hills of the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.


This land provides the resident donkeys with summer grazing pastures and haylage for the winter, as well as supporting wildlife and semi-natural habitats.


The organisation employs over 600 staff in the UK, with 523 based in the South West. Roles range from grooms to vets, scientists to researchers, chefs to fundraisers and electricians to fabricators. The charity also funds over 220 roles internationally, in countries such as Ethiopia, Mexico, India and Kenya.


The Donkey Sanctuary continues to be a free attraction. The new gift shop, restaurant and Exhibition Barn offers even more for visitors to experience, with all profits going back into supporting the work of the charity.


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Thanks to Devon Wildlife Trust, Exeter City Council, Exeter Science Park, Kor Communications, The Met Office and case study brands for photo permissions.