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Donkey Facts
 By Winniefield Park   •   17th Nov 2017   •   714 views   •   0 comments


Horses have a few relatives. There are close relatives such as zebras, onagers and asses, and more distant relatives such as Tapirs and rhinoceros. But one relative that most of us know well is the donkey. Donkeys have a long history with humans, and they continue to be important today.

Donkeys and horses can live together and most of the diseases that horses get donkeys can get also. So the same health care you give your horse such as vaccinations and parasite control has to be given to a donkey, even though, it is ‘only a pet’. Donkeys tend to be a bit hardier than horses and less prone to leg problems. But, they may not be able to withstand cold weather as efficiently as horses. A recent study found that donkeys can’t retain heat as well as horses do when the temperature dips. Donkeys don’t grow a long winter coat like a horse, so they need blankets or shelters to keep them warm and dry.

There are lots of donkey breeds, each with their own characteristics. Of the over 150 different breeds, we here in North America are probably most familiar with the American Mammoth Jack, often crossed with horses to produce a large draft type mule or riding mule, and Miniature Donkeys, which are most often kept as pets.

Donkeys are the only domestic animal originating from Africa. Cattle, sheep, swine and every other domestic animal came from Asia or Europe. The donkey is a descendant of the wild African ass. It’s thought that they might have originated in Northern Africa, but it isn’t certain. There is evidence that they were in use by the nomadic people of that area 5000 to 6000 years ago. Horses however, were domesticated at about the same time from animals in the grasslands of central Asia. Donkeys and horses can mate, and their offspring will be either a mule or a hinny. Some ancient civilizations preferred donkeys and mules to horses.

Donkeys first came across the ocean to the Western Hemisphere at about the same time as horses. It’s thought that Christopher Columbus brought donkeys with him on his second voyage in 1495. It wasn’t until 1528 that the first donkey arrived with missionaries in what we now know as North America.

Animal Traction Development and University of Reading estimates that there are about 44 million donkeys worldwide. The greatest number is in China and Ethiopia. But, the number of donkeys worldwide is dwindling. Although they are still essential to many people as a beast of burden, donkeys are being harvested for their hides, a component of which is used to make a beauty product. In some places, this is causing economic hardships.

While they may be pets for many of us, donkeys continue to be important work animals contributing to many people’s daily livelihoods. Most of the 44 million donkeys around the world have jobs alongside their owner. In many third world countries, donkeys are still used to carry loads, and to pull carts and farm implements. In some places, they are used as guard animals to protect sheep and goat herds from predators. They aren't as popular for riding in places like Europe and North America as they once were, but a small adult or child can ride a donkey and there are tourist spots that offer donkey sightseeing rides.

Donkeys can make good companions for horses, but a donkey owner has to be aware that they are far more stoic than horses. It may be harder to tell when a donkey is unwell. Horse owners may find their donkey learns faster than their horse. And, once they’ve learned something you don't want them to, it’s hard for them to ‘unlearn’ it. The best way to train a donkey is with positive reinforcement as they are likely to remember any treatment they dislike.

References:
1. PHYS: Donkey Winter Horses
2. News Scientist: Donkey Domestication
3. Practical Horseman: Donkey Companions
4. ATNESA: Donkey Populations
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