Donkeys are strong and powerful, intelligent and curious, and they have excellent memories. They can remember other donkeys and places for up to 25 years have a reputation for stubbornness which is really unfair. What they actually have is a well developed sense of self preservation. It is difficult to startle or scare a donkey but if you try to force it to do something dangerous it will have good think about it and make a decision based on their assessment of their own safety. If people try to train Donkeys they have to build up a relationship of trust with them. There is a saying ‘Tell a horse… Ask a donkey”.
Originally, thousands and thousands of years ago, donkeys originated in deserts and still their bodies are perfectly suited to these harsh conditions. They can get 95% of the moisture, nutrients and goodness out of the poorest vegetation. This means that their manure is useless as a fertiliser because there is so little goodness wasted in their poo. At Mudchute their diet has to be mostly straw rather than hay which is too rich in nutrients for them to thrive upon.
The long ears of donkeys mean that they can swivel them to catch distant sounds. In the desert they can hear noises 60miles away. Also those long ears help to keep them cool. Their coats have got no waterproofing in them, because they don’t need it in the desert. However this does mean that they hate the rain and getting soggy and wet.
In the wild they are herd animals and can be brave and heroic. They groom each other and work cleverly as a pack to protect each other from natural predators like wolves. There is always a lead donkey who is in charge of the pack and makes decisions for it. But if the pack is attacked it is the lead donkey who will stay behind and lead the predators away from the rest of the herd, so that they will survive even if their leader doesn’t. They are still often used as guard animals to protect sheep or goats because they do not like or trust dog like creatures and will keep them away from their ‘herd’ by rushing forward to meet them. They fight with their hooves and teeth.
Donkeys have been living alongside humans for at least 6000 years and the history of the animal stretches back millions of years.
The Egyptians used them for milk and meat and carrying loads of precious metals across Africa. The Greeks used them to carry loads of grapes between the rows of vines in their vineyards. They carried silk along the Silk Road and used by the Romans throughout their empire, including Britain, as pack animals and agricultural workers.
Throughout centuries they have provided a life line to many families, carrying loads of water, wood land cultivation, transport and other essentials. They are sometimes described as the first town planners because of their way of finding the quickest and easiest but the most safe route through a country side any up and down mountains.
Believe it or not, there are many donkeys in the world who are very badly treated.
The donkeys who live at Mudchute come from a rescue centre. It is very important that they keep working and keep their muscles excersised, because if they just sit around doing nothing then they build up fatty layers around their hearts.