“The donkey has always helped man, in most parts of the world it still does, and it never asks for anything in exchange.”
Dr. Elisabeth Svendsen MBE – Founder of The Donkey Sanctuary.
How to celebrate International Donkey Day
- Become a donkey ambassador! Learn more through our website resources and take the opportunity to raise donkeys status sharing with family, friends and community their uniqueness and marvel.
- Be a responsible owner: donkeys’ life lasts for about 30 years. Before take the decision to open your family to any donkey, consider this aspect, the necessary time and economic resources and remember that they will suffer incredibly if separated by you.
- Be a responsible “user”. If you ever decide to take a ride, please ensure that working donkeys are safe, well cared and their needs ensured.
- Spend quality time with donkeys!
10 Interesting tips
- They are highly intelligent creatures, sociable and calm, capable of independent thinking and decision-making.
- They are strong and will not do something they consider unsafe, which makes them a great, trusted companion.
- There are over 44 million donkeys worldwide.
- In Ethiopia, there is a saying: ‘If you don’t have a donkey, then you are a donkey.’
- Donkeys do not drink dirt water.
- These social and intelligent sentient beings have a unique capacity to bond with each other and with humans, their heart rates even synchronising with those with whom they come into contact. (Evidences by a research made at Donkey Assisted Therapy department of The Donkey Sanctuary).
- Donkeys are great bodyguards! As well as being fiercely loyal to their bonded partners, donkeys are also renowned for their ability to protect large herds. They can be seen across the globe in sheep and goat flocks, cattle herd, as they will attack predators to protect their family.
- Donkeys dig! In desert areas, feral and wild donkeys dig to access groundwater. The little wells they create not only help themselves, but they also sustain much smaller animals that would otherwise struggle to access water in the scorching heat.
- Their ears can caught noises from km away, and they have a temperature control function!
- Donkeys are super escapers! Please ensure to have a safe fencing and to check it regularly. You know that the neighbour’s grass is always greener!
History of the donkey
Although millions of years ago donkeys and horses had the same ancestors they have evolved to be very different species and understanding those differences are of vital importance to the care and welfare of donkeys. There are two distinct species of wild donkey; the Asiatic branch of the species came from an area stretching from the Red Sea to Northern India and Tibet where the ass had to adapt to different climate, terrain and altitude. Consequently, there is more than one type of Asiatic wild ass. The African branch of the species was found in North Africa between the Mediterranean coast and the Sahara Desert to the south of the Red Sea. There were two separate species of the African ass: the Nubian wild ass and the Somali wild ass. Our modern domesticated donkeys are all descended from these African wild asses’ ancestors.
Donkeys were first domesticated around 6,000 years ago in North Africa and Egypt for meat and milk. Around 2,000 years ago, donkeys were among the draught animals used to carry silk from the Pacific Ocean to the Mediterranean along the Silk Road in return for trade goods. The overland route was approximately 4,000 miles or 6,400kms and lasted several years. No single animal completed the entire journey and mixing of breeds occurred as unplanned matings happened en-route to give us the beginnings of the diverse range of donkey breeds we now have. The journey ended in the Mediterranean ports of Greece, Italy, the Middle East and Alexandria in Egypt. In Greece donkeys were found to be ideal animals for working on the narrow paths between the vines. Their use for cultivation in vineyards spread through the Mediterranean countries to Spain, whose coast at the southern tip is separated from North Africa by only a few miles - possibly another entry route for the African wild ass.
The Roman Army was responsible for the movement of donkeys into Northern Europe. Donkeys were used in agriculture and as pack animals. The Romans used donkeys in their new vineyards, some planted as far north as France and Germany. Donkeys went to England with the Roman invasion of Britain in AD 43. However, donkeys were still not commonly documented in the UK until after the 1550s. After the mid-17th Century, Oliver Cromwell's invasion of Ireland saw an influx of donkeys being used to bear the labours of war. Following this, large numbers of donkeys were introduced to the country for the first time - opening opportunities for poorer and agricultural Irish communities to keep a cheap, working draft animal.
The vast majority of the world’s equid population are working animals. An estimated 112 million working horses, ponies, donkeys and mules are essential to the livelihoods of some of the poorest communities in Africa, Asia and South/Central America. The traditional beast of burden, their socio-economic value is often taken for granted, with people taking advantage of their hardworking traits.
Research has highlighted that rural communities across the world rank working equids as their most important. In rural areas, working equids are often used in farming and as transportation: they pull ploughs and carts, deliver goods to market, herd livestock and collect water from wells. In urban areas, they are mainly used in construction, transport of people and goods, and refuse collection. By enabling their owners to participate in work, they boost economic capacity, which is often used towards the cost of education that promotes gender equality by allowing women to be economically active.
Simple interventions can empower owners to keep their working equids healthy and ensure their continued productive benefit. These interventions include improved access to good, affordable harnessing, hoof care and veterinary interventions, and, above all, the empowerment of their owners with better knowledge of equine management important livestock, due to their capacity to support income generation.