Mario and Nuvola: An Industrious Pair

May 4, 2014

Meet Nuvola (left) and Mario (right).

They live and work in Castelbuono in the Madonie Mountains, not far from Cefalu.

Several years ago Mayor Marco Cicero had the idea of eliminating garbage trucks from the old town and substituting six donkeys–going back to the way things were done 60 years ago. Nuvola (Cloud) works everyday except Sunday, clomping door to door gathering and separating trash. She and her fellow donkeys are all female because, according to Mario, women are more docile and diligent.

Garbage-Collecting Donkey in Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

The sweet creatures get pretty bogged down.

Trash-Collecting Donkey in Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

The town is saving money (no need for truck upkeep or gas!) and there’s less exhaust from trucks. Eco-friendly, says the mayor.

But as animal rights groups and the mayor of New York are trying to ban horse-drawn carriages in Central Park as being abusive (though the “Horse Whisperer” says the horses are content), I’m wondering: what do you think??? Are trash-hauling donkeys a good idea?


ABOUT CASTELBUONO: Nuvola (Cloud) gets her name from the clouds often hanging over this lovely town. If you’re on holiday in Cefalu, be sure to visit! There’s a stunning Norman castle and museum, some interesting shopping (check out “manna” and the fabulous sweet shop called Fiasconaro), and a yellow piazza bubbling with water, chatter, laughter.

Central Piazza in Castelbuono, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga


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37 comments to Mario and Nuvola: An Industrious Pair

  • I like the idea, and the photos and am not sure about the harm it may or may not be causing the donkeys. If the owners are sympatico, they would take care to not overburden their animals, one would think/hope. Aren’t donkeys known as “beasts of burden”?

    • Jann

      We’ve been learning so much about the minds of animals–Maybe soon they’ll be able to do brain scans of animals to see what they’re thinking. That would be helpful.

  • Anitre

    What a brilliant idea! It looks like the animals are cared for and a part of the community. I would love to see this in other small towns in Sicily. Great photos! Brava, Jann!

  • Another thought. I think we need campaigns to eliminate human beings working too hard and hauling trash.

    • Jann

      You make a good point, Narelle. What about the little kids in India collecting trash all day.

  • Ahhh, poor donkey.
    I love them so very much.
    How can they haul all of the load? Poor babies.
    Lovely photos, Jann.
    LUV from MN. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

  • I’m an animal lover from way back, and that part of me rebels at using donkeys to haul trash. Still, the realist in me sees it as a viable solution, giving the donkeys a real purpose and preserving the environment. But oh, my, how I cringe at seeing that poor animal laden down with junk!!

    • Jann

      Yes, a little too laden methinks. And why use those heavy wooden baskets? How about something smaller, something wicker/lighter? And there should be a weight limit.

  • Jann,
    I have site’s I read every day. Today I saw Debra Roppolo’s comments and clicked her name and “These Glass Walls” came up a space to raise awareness of animal rights and welfare issues. I spent the next half hour reading her blog. She made mention of Edgars Mission a Victoria, Australia. My next stop is usually where I find many of my daily wallpapers. Today’s photo is Peter the Sheep from Edgars mission. CHE STRANO!!!!

    • Jann

      Che coincidenza, indeed!! Debra has a great & instructive blog.

      Dennis, in another coincidence, you’ve been on my mind recently cuz I was in Cefalu and missed you so much and also old Cefalu. I hardly recognized it! (But happily the villages in the Madonie & Nebrodi seem pretty untouched.)

  • I’m in love with Nuvola.

  • Well, Jann, you probably saw this coming from me, but I have an issue with it. People may find the use of donkeys charming, but I’ve seen a lot of animal neglect in my time in Sicily — and animals who are used for work are often seen only in terms of their worth to humans. Like anyone who routinely carries heavy loads, these animals are prone to back and foot problems, and to put it quite simply, I don’t believe animals are ours to use however we see fit. Seeing a donkey burdened in this way just makes me sad.

  • Rich Losacano

    Jan, The donkeys are a great idea by the sindico! Donkeys are such a traditional part of the Sicilian heritage, plus, they can navigate the old, narrow streets well. Very creative! There is some clever thinking going on in those hill towns.

    • Jann

      Thanks Rich & everyone for your ideas about donkeys working in this way, and the way you’ve educated me to differing points of view. I don’t know that much about the animal mind, but I did have a dog for 15 years, and he loved to learn and be out and about interacting with humans (and other animals). He got so bored when he was just lounging around the house. Is it possible that these donkeys find some joy in being out on the streets & interacting and “learning”? I don’t know, and certainly if they’re taxed beyond their capacity, that is a huge problem. (How do we know where that line is????) Debra R, your point is well taken, that animals are not ours to use as we see fit. Then what about riding horses, or using dogs to guide the blind?

  • Wonderful delightful Jann…. Now what is the story? Here we are in the so-called lucky country and yet all the fun and fur seems to be missing from life on the streets. No yellow piazze round here that’s for sure. xx

  • The way you tell a story in just a photo or two is remarkable, Jann. And your nose for a story is so keen. As long as the donkeys are well-cared for and not over-burdened, what does it matter what they carry? It seems like a creative, useful solution all round.

  • John Schinina

    Ciao Jann, What a wonderful idea, when I was a child living in New York, Greenvich Village, I can remember the working horses pulling the carts with everything from food to junk,they even moved furniture. I remember the time I spent in Ragusa, I never saw a garbage truck or a fire engine. Here in the States, thats a daily event.

  • I love this post – those little Sicilian donkeys are sweet. We have one living in our neighbourhood in Canada, and she has a lovely, gentle temperament. As for the cruelty factor – there is nothing cruel about working animals IF they are well fed and cared for and they are not over taxed in their work.

  • Vicki Carol

    It isn’t the donkey’s that we have to worry about, it is the humans. I don’t know how I feel about the load they are forced to carry. I can see the plus side for the town and the environment. Who really knows how they are treated? I pray that they are loved.

  • Aida

    Yes jann, the mayor of new york is trying to ban carriage rides…i to sit on the fence, they have had car accidence with horses
    And on hot days a few have died..while i myself rode horses in central park on path for horses it was croweded with people
    Yelling and running with bells and screaming kids and barking dogs..horeses are flight animals and a scared run away horse is
    Not for the faint of heart…i worry if the donkeys are taken off the streets what will happen to them like tom wilson the
    Devils in the details…abuse and no food is a different matter for all the animals not to be tolerated..
    I have been to cefalu beautiful …praying that all animals are safe, respected and loved all of you can see this is a
    Passionate issue.
    All over the world…..

  • In small villages or country towns this is a great idea. Donkeys are usually loved by their owners and are treated well. I remember the time when milk and bread were delivered to the suburbs of Melbourne by Horse and cart early in the morning, before the traffic built up. Now it would be impossible.

  • Bonnie

    I love your story about using the donkeys! I was in Castelbuono last year and found it wonderful, along with other small villages in the Madonie Mountains. Wonderful pictures as always.

    • Jann

      Bonnie, sounds like you really got around Sicily. I too am charmed by the villages in the Madonie.

  • cemal karahan

    oh, this is such a nice article about donkeys, the animals I like very much because they are so innocent animals carrying the whole world on their back,like Atlas. Let me give you a piece of news about donkeys in Turkey, Jann, the land of contradictions, which makes the country so attractive to live in.In Manisa, a city which has reputation in early years of Ottoman Empire, donkeys who had worked so many years carrying trash in narrow paths of the old parts of the city at last had their rights of retirement and they are now getting treated and cared in Manisa Animal Care and Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre,.There is some other news of donkeys carrying tourists to the Nemrut Mountain of Commagene Civilisation in Adıyaman region.Thanks for the article and photos, Jann.

    • Jann

      So interesting, Cemal. Thanks! It sounds like that part of Turkey is pretty enlightened when it comes to animal rights.

  • What a great idea! Wish Bernalda would consider something like this, talk about job creation. And who scoops the poop? Another job created!

  • Holly

    Thank you for this wonderful article and lovely photos. I visited Castelbuono in 2011 and LOVED it!
    I stayed on the grounds of a working farm and winery and the food was so fresh it strengthened both my body and my soul. I long to return there again.

    • Jann

      Holly, that sounds like a super vacation. It does feel so fresh and clean up there. Was it springtime? I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a bright green color. I hope you get back someday soon.

  • Larry May

    There are donkeys all over rural Ireland, but I never saw one used to haul trash. It seems like an easy thing for them.

    Sadly, there are many abused donkeys here. A friend runs a Sanctuary just up the road from me:

    • Jann

      Larry, I want to rush right over there and hug those poor donkeys. I’m very surprised that the Irish would mistreat their animals! By the way, the background picture looks just like the Iblean Hills! Drystone walls and all.

  • Gian Banchero

    As long as the animals are treated with care and respect I’m totally for this “organic” alternative. Myself I keep wondering about the possibilities of having a donkey shuttle me around town here in Berkeley, California, but I’m positive city hall wouldn’t allow it. Maybe I could settle on two Great Danes?

    • Jann

      🙂 In Berkeley, I think you must be limited to bikes, Gian. By the way, my husband just installed 12 figures in the Rosie the Riveter Museum in Richmond just north of you. (He’s a sculptor).

  • Tom Wilson

    Hmmmmm….I’ve been back and forth about this donkey business. On Santorini in the village of Pyrgos donkeys are the only way to transport anything, including bottled water. The inhabitants all know the donkey owners and insure the animals are well fed, healthy and happy. That’s Pyrgos. The donkeys in other parts of the island where donkeys are used as a tourist attraction have not been equally cared for and loved (and appreciated). It can be a viable humane alternative, but once again, the devils’ in the details.

  • Sam

    Definitely would not work in my neighborhood in the US. The donkey would be crushed under the weight of only four houses worth of trash. I can’t believe how much stuff is thrown away over here!

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