UK donkey population dwindles

The donkey, Equus asinus, is gradually disappearing from the UK countryside, 2,000 years after being introduced to Britain by the Romans. One of the first animals domesticated by man, they were used as pack animals and for pulling carts and became, in Victorian times, a favourite for children’s seaside rides. 

But for decades donkey numbers have been dwindling and now stand at 27,000, with most kept as pets, although 6,500 donkeys live in much-visited donkey sanctuaries. As working animals they are a rarity even for beach rides.

Described as calmer and more intelligent than horses, they live about 30 to 40 years and have a distinctive “hee-haw” call that can be heard 3km away.

Descended from the critically endangered wild ass, Equus africanus, they are social animals that live in family groups, taking a year to produce a foal. They are natural desert or dry land dwellers, more hardy than horses, being able to live off sparse vegetation.

Because of their usefulness to man, donkeys are found all over the world and still much used in poorer countries as working animals.

Abandoned donkeys have adapted and formed feral populations as far apart as Death Valley in the US and the deserts of Australia, so their future is assured.