Bonaire’s Terrestrial Environment

Although some of our terrain on Bonaire has been artificially studded with large palm trees and forced to grow grass for people’s gardens, much remains au natural, especially since the closure many years ago of the two large ranches or kunukus which are now part of Washington Slagbaai National Park. The park covers almost one third of the island.

These kunukus, which once raised goats and aloe vera, were never truly cultivated lands, so they quickly reverted to their natural state. The park is open from 8:00 AM until 5:00 PM, and no entry is allowed after 3:00 PM. The rough dirt roads take you through kilometers of Giant Candle cactus (locally known as Kadushi), aloe vera, and divi trees. Bonairean squirrels, (some call them iguanas) sit by the road, sunning themselves, but take your picture quickly because these iguanas can really run. It should be noted that iguanas are a key ingredient in a local speciality known, coincidentally enough, as iguana soup. They are also used in iguana stew. And yes, iguana kind of does taste like chicken.

Bonaire’s Washington Park is also one of the best places to catch a glimpse of our native Bonaire Lora (Amazonia Barbadensis Rothchild). About 10 inches long, the green Amazon hookbill has a full yellow head, yellow shoulders and a rainbow of colors on its wing when spread. Bonaire’s Echo Foundation does annual counts, along with STINAPA, and is working on a public awareness campaign. Since 1952 it has been illegal to kill, catch, sell, or keep a lora on Bonaire but that law has unfortunatley not been enforced as of yet, but that will hopefully change soon.

More common, but still endangered, is the Prikichi, a small bright green Caribbean parakeet with a yellow face.

An easier bird to find is the ever-present flamingo. Bonaire is home to a small breeding ground enough for about 2000 flamingos to nest, one of only a handful of such breeding grounds worldwide. The population of flamingos island wide ranges from 7,000 to 15,000 depending on the season. The Flamingo Sanctuary is located within the salt pans on the southern end of Bonaire and it is strictly forbidden to enter there. However, flamingos can be seen meandering about the salt ponds in search of a meal, and are generally quite visible at the Goto Meer located at the southern part of Washington Park and also along the mangrove area of Lac Bay.

Goats are a fact of life on Bonaire and a staple of the Bonairean’s diet. Almost every goat on Bonaire is actually owned by someone–something that seems difficult to believe when you see one crossing the road in front of you or chomping away at the vegetation in the middle of nowhere.

Today, Bonaire’s donkeys are descendents of those from past days when they worked to haul salt, tools, water, people, and supplies between Rincon and the salt pans located at the southern most point of the island, since, at that time, there was no other mode of transportation. Now some of the donkeys still roam the island, but the majority can be found in the Donkey Sanctuary located just south of the airport, which is making a heroic effort to rescue the donkeys by providing much of their needs with medical care, food, water and shelter. They also offer education and interaction about and with the donkeys for children of all ages. Stop by for a visit.