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History of the Donkey

The history of the donkey is colourful, to say the least. Throughout the past, they have been used as beasts of burden for their strength, temperament, and tolerance for heavy loads.  Unfortunately, these desirable traits have sometimes lead to their abuse. 

Donkeys were brought to South America and Mexico by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century, and slowly moved northward.  Many stories of the donkey making its mark on the world have been passed through religion.  It is believed that God gave the donkey the shadow of the cross, a cross-shaped marking on his back, when this noble beast offered to carry the cross for Christ before the Crucifixion. The donkey is mentioned numerous times in the Bible, as an "ass", derived from the Latin "Equus Asinus". 

The donkey really became popular with Queen Victoria.  She had three!  One, who was called Jacqout, traveled with her abroad.  Because of the Royal interest in driving donkeys, it became quite the fashion to have a donkey instead of a horse pulling one's carriage.

Donkey 101

Donkeys can live to 50+ years if they have been properly cared for, although the average is 40-45 years. Sadly in developing countries, the average is only 8 years

A group of donkeys is called a "pace".

A male is called a jack, a female is a jennet, and a castrated male is a gelding

There are donkey sanctuaries around the world: Kenya, Ethiopia, Mexico, India, Dutch Antilles, and others throughout Europe, Asia, South America and th USA, the most recent being established in Israel.  The largest sanctuary is in England, where, throughout the years, they have dealt with over 10,000 donkeys, mules, and hinnies.

In North America, they act as predator control and guard animals for cattle, sheep, goats, and other farm animals.  They stand their ground, protecting their charges against enemies like coyotes or wild dogs.  It is not in the nature of the donkey to run in panic, but to stop and assess the situation before acting.  The gentlest donkey can be the fiercest protector.

Signs of Mistreatment

Hoof Neglect: A donkey's hooves should be trimmed every 10-12 weeks using the proper equipment (consult a farrier rather than trying it yourself).  If there is a curvature (upward or downward) to the hoof, this means they are too long.  This makes it difficult and painful for the donkey to walk.  Likewise, a donkey's hooves can be trimmed too short, making it very uncomfortable to support all of their weight.

Weight: Donkeys grow fat in pockets (a little bit like cellulite).  It is alright for a donkey to have a few pockets, however, excessive weight is not healthy.  Again, likewise, a donkey should not be malnourished (are the hip bones and shoulders prominent?). Healthy weights for donkeys are as follows.

Miniature: 200 lbs - 350 lbs

Standard: 400 lbs - 700 lbs

Mammoth: 900 lbs - 1400 lbs

Founder: By eating too many rich grains, a donkey can develop a condition called founder.  This means that the insides of the legs and hooves are growing in an incorrect and painful way.  If you notice a donkey's gait is stilted, uneven, or very slow, consult a veterinarian as soon as possible.  If you are aware of a problem with the donkey's legs and do not consult a vet, this is neglect.

Teeth: A donkey's teeth need regular attention from a veterinarian.  They are continuously growing, and therefore it is easy for them to grow improperly.  If a donkey seems to be favouring one side of his mouth, this could mean there is a dental issue (teeth should not be left to grow uneven or too sharply - sharp teeth require floating as they can lead to cuts or other mouth discomforts - consult your veterinarian).  It is difficult to tell if there is a problem, so it is a good idea to make sure your regular vet checkups include the teeth!

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