Out of all animals the donkey is one of my favourites. They have a personality that you would not expect, they truly adore their people and are actually quite wonderful to own.

Donkeys are commonly kept as guard animals for sheep and goats they have a strong dislike for dogs. They can be taught not to harm your pet dog, but any new comer should take caution.

Some donkeys are even used to guard against human prowlers, because a donkey will usually approach anything new in their area, and will act accordingly to the threat. It is really quite amazing.

Donkeys come in a variety of sizes, from the small Miniature, to the Standard and the larger Mammoth. Most often it is the small mini donkeys which are kept as pets. They indeed are the cutest.

Are Donkeys Intelligent?

Donkeys that have been well handled with positive techniques in the past are more likely to be confident and more motivated to learn new things through their interaction with humans and their environment.

In order to learn most effectively, the lessons need to be offered in small, easily understood sections or steps - a process called ‘shaping behaviour’

All donkeys are individual and their ability to learn is varied.  Much relies on the ability of the trainer to be able to communicate accurately and consistently what is required.

The nature of donkeys is not to be aggressive, stubborn or difficult but purely to learn and survive. They are good at learning to survive and they are good at learning to avoid activities they find difficult, frightening or painful. They have good memories and learn very easily.

Many people think of donkeys as stubborn, in fact they are extremely intelligent and a stubborn donkey is probably thinking to itself ‘Do I want to do this?’, ‘Why should I do this?’, or ‘Is this entirely safe?’.

If your donkey resists doing something, it is not his or her fault. You need to find a better way to ask. However remember if they don't think something is safe, they may be trying to protect you, as well as themselves...

Why do donkeys have a brown cross on their backs?

Some donkeys (often called Christian donkeys) have a narrow strip of dark hair that runs down their backs and each of their shoulders. These markings are in the shape of a cross. Like the colour traits of other animals (such as zebras), we don’t know exactly why these donkeys have this cross.

There is a legend that the crosses on these donkeys appeared after Jesus rode one into Jerusalem (read Matthew 21:1-11). There is no evidence that this is true. The dark stripe in the form of a cross was a trait in these donkeys long before Jesus lived. But is makes a nice story especially at Easter...

History of Donkeys

Donkeys are, by definition, domesticated asses, and they constitute their own species, ‘Equus asinus’.

The history of donkeys is tied to human history. Archaeologists have been intrigued by where and when donkeys were first used by people because it marks a shift from agrarian to more mobile, trade-oriented society.

The most surprising finding is that African wild asses are the true ancestors of modern donkeys, putting to rest a debate among historians and archaeologists about whether donkeys arose from wild asses in Asia or Africa.

Donkeys were called Asses until the 18th C, by which time they had been taken over a large part of the world by Man. They were important beasts of burden, used for riding, also ploughing, turning wheels and many other forms of menial task. To a large extent, the donkey has been the helpmate of the poor man throughout the ages, and continues as such today in much of the Third World.

Despite the critical role that it played in travel and transport throughout human history, of all domesticated animals, the donkey is studied the least.

Source: Beja-Pereira, Albano et al. African Origins of Domestic Donkey. Science 304, 1781 (June 18, 2004)

History of Donkeys in Australia

Although generally unrecognized and forgotten in the Eastern States, donkeys had long been a feature of life in South and Western Australia. They were widely used in Colonial days, and in some areas, right up until the widespread introduction of the motor vehicle in the 1920's and 30's.

Donkeys were primarily used for the haulage of freight wagons in the more inhospitable areas of the country where a horse or bullock team would perish for lack of forage and water. Although an individual donkey could pull much less than a single horse or bullock, they could be hitched up into large teams to make up for the deficiencies. Teams of 10-12 animals were commonplace, for heavier loads or rougher conditions up to 30 animals or more could be used in a single team.

With the advent of motor transport, these large, slow teams could no longer compete. Many teamsters, unwilling to shoot their faithful animals, turned them loose to fend for themselves. The animals soon went feral and bred up in large numbers.

By the 1960's and early 70's they were becoming a serious problem for Graziers, competing for scarce food and water with domestic sheep and cattle. Many were shot or poisoned and left to rot, until the pet food market discovered this large, cheap supply of meat. Large numbers of donkeys were rounded up, loaded onto road trains and transported to abattoirs in the major cities. Poor conditions and a high mortality rate during transport lead to public outrage and the industry was regulated.

The plight of the donkeys and the public exposure generated lead many people in the early 1970's to become aware of the donkey's potential as pets and light working animals. Many were rescued from the abattoirs and started a new life as pets, etc.

Unusual Breed - Poitou Donkey!

The Poitou donkey comes from the Equus asinus species from France and is the ‘donkey with dreadlocks’. 

It can grow up to 16hh, a statuesque example in donkeyworld! 

It is a very old breed that almost died out and has been brought back from the brink of extinction...

Donkey Links

Donkey Societies – Australia

Donkey Societies – Overseas

Donkey Sanctuaries

Donkey Charities

Good Samaritan Donkey Sanctuary - 

The Good Samaritan Donkey Sanctuary Inc (GSDS) is a non-profit charity devoted to the welfare of donkeys by rescuing and caring for the abused and unwanted ones.

Caring for rescued donkeys since 1972, the GSDS was officially established in 1990 -making it the first donkey sanctuary in Australia.

New European Distressed Donkey Initiative (N.E.D.D.I.) -

The New European Distressed Donkey Initiative (N.E.D.D.I.) was established in 1990. NEDDI offers care and safety to donkeys within Britain & Europe at risk from neglect, cruelty or mal-treatment.

The Brook -

The Brook is an international animal welfare organisation dedicated to improving the lives of working horses, donkeys and mules in some of the world's poorest communities; “animals have no nationality... they cannot ask for help in their pain”. The Brook was founded by Dorothy Brooks in 1934.

The Brooke launches hard-hitting report urging the development sector to include working  horses, donkeys and mules in international aid strategiesThe Brook is known as ‘the animal charity that helps people too’

It provides treatment, training and programmes around animal health & wellbeing, operating across Africa, Asia and Latin America.

“A donkey is a valuable asset because it extends a household’s economic options in every sense. Maintaining the health and welfare of donkeys is paramount.” Ganesh Pandey, India.

The Donkey Sanctuary - Devon, UK -

The Donkey Sanctuary is an international animal welfare charity, based in the UK, working to protect and care for donkeys and mules.

Dr Elisabeth Svendsen MBE, founded The Donkey Sanctuary and it became a registered charity in 1973. To date, more than 14,500 donkeys have passed through the Donkey Sanctuary's gates in the UK and Ireland.

"The Donkey Sanctuary 40 Years on DVD" provides a definitive insight into the global efforts of the charity - narrated by the late founder, Dr Elisabeth Svendsen, MBE. It’s been produced to commemorate the charity’s 40th Anniversary and will be used to help with awareness and fundraising.

Helping Donkeys Worldwide:

Related Sites

International Donkey Week 8-15 May 2012

Each year, The Donkey Sanctuary hosts International Donkey Week, to highlight the plight of donkeys around the world.

“Donkeys support some of the poorest people and communities on the planet. They will work until they drop in terrible conditions to carry desperately needed water and transport huge loads to make their owners a living.”

“We work hard to support these donkeys as well as the families that could not live without them, through mobile teams providing vet treatments and educational projects all over the world.”

International Donkey Week is a time to consider the donkey’s plight and how charities like ours can help alleviate their suffering.” Dawn Vincent, The Donkey Sanctuary UK

For more information visit:

A donkey’s gentle and affectionate nature brings a calming effect over all who they come into contact with. Donkeys especially enjoy human interactions. This helps to lift people's spirits.

Developed by psychiatrist, Dr May Dodd, Donkey Therapy promotes the therapeutic benefits of donkeys for physically, mentally and intellectually disabled patients.

Donkey therapy improves low self-esteem, and reduces feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. Their nature acts as a type of magnet drawing all people to them. This is especially true for hospitalised people of all ages including children. 

Donkeys have the ability to balance and calm anxious, agitated emotions through gentle interaction. Donkey therapy brings mental and emotional calm to physically or psychologically distressed people.

People with depression, autism, anxiety, cerebral palsy, disability, and other physical and psychological conditions benefit markedly from contact with donkeys.
The Donkey Shelter’s ‘Donkey Therapy Program’ has been successfully introduced through the ANZAC Program at the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital. They hope to expand the program to the Royal Melbourne Hospital’s rehabilitation area and to the Royal Children’s Hospital.

Donkey Shelter ANZAC Program -

‘Jim the Donkey’ is a well known character at Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital.
For many years Jim has attended the traditional ANZAC Day Service in the Remembrance Garden at Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital.  

He symbolises the care and compassion shown by Simpson and his Donkey at Gallipoli. He also visits the Aged Care Facility, Darley House.

Hero Donkeys

jimmy the sergeant Image 3
Jimmy 'The Sergeant' was born in WWI trench at the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and became a mascot for British Troops. He was wounded by shellfire three times during two years on the frontline. He was taught to raise his hoof in salute by the soldiers who brought him up.

After the war he raised thousands of pounds for the RSPCA through charity work in Peterborough.

Jimmy was posthumously awarded the Dickin Medal for bravery, the highest military honour for an animal – and made an honorary sergeant with three stripes on his bridle.


Simpson’s Donkey - ‘Duffy the Donkey’ transported injured soldiers to safety at Gallipoli, with his owner John Simpson. 

The now famous pair ‘Simpson and his Donkey’ became the epitome of sacrifice and courage in the Anzac spirit.


Professional Handbook of the Donkey

The Professional Handbook of the Donkey (4th edition)The handbook is a comprehensive volume of information on the donkey. Much of the knowledge comes from the meticulous records kept of every donkey at the Sanctuary. The skill of the Sanctuary's veterinary surgeons, non-intrusive research and observations by the staff who care daily for their charges have contributed greatly.

NB: The handbook is only available to the veterinary profession.

A Guide to Caring for your DonkeyGuide to Caring for your Donkey

Owning or caring for a donkey is most rewarding, although very few realise just how much time, effort and expense goes into the care of donkeys. This guide is intended for anyone who has newly acquired, or is intending to acquire a donkey.

The Wisdom of Donkeys - Andy Merrifield

The Wisdom of DonkeysWith a search for slowness and tranquillity - Andy Merrifield sets out on a journey of the soul with a friend's donkey, Gribouille, to walk amid the ruins and spectacular vistas of southern France's Haute-Auvergne.

As Merrifield contemplates literature, science, truth, and beauty amid the French countryside, Gribouille surprises him with his subtle wisdom, reminding him time and again that enlightenment is all around us if we but seek it...

The Donkey Companion: Selecting, Training, Breeding - Sue Weaver

Friendly, dependable, intelligent, and easy to care for, donkeys are increasingly prized by small-scale farmers, horse lovers, and animal enthusiasts. Donkeys not only pull carts, carry riders, and tote gear for hikers, but they also make terrific stable companions and livestock guardians, and they are renowned for their skills in transport, raising water, milling, and farm tillage.

They're also gentle with children and the elderly, making them a popular therapy animal and family pet. A donkey is not simply a long-eared horse, however; understanding the donkey's distinctive traits is critical to the animal's well-being and usefulness.

"The Donkey Companion", by Sue Weaver, offers a comprehensive overview of this hardy creature - the most complete, up-to-date reference of its kind. Here is everything donkey enthusiasts need to know about the animal's history, physiology, behaviour, breed characteristics, daily care, and health needs. 

Donkeys: Miniature, Standard, and Mammoth by Stephen R. Purdy, DVMDonkeys: Miniature, Standard, and Mammoth - Stephen Purdy DVM

A Veterinary Guide for Owners and Breeders

“We highly recommend that everyone who deals with donkeys in any capacity- from pet or rescue, to breeding and veterinary work - buy this book and read it carefully.” 
Paul and Betsy Hutchins, Founders - The American Donkey & Mule Society

The Wonky Donkey – Craig Smith
In this very funny, cumulative song, each page tells us something new about the donkey until we end up with a spunky, hanky-panky cranky stinky dinky lanky honky-tonky winky wonky donkey, which will have children in fits of laughter! 

Simpson and his Donkey, Duffy – Mark Greenwood

A poignant account of the story of John Simpson Kirkpatrick and how he and his donkey, Duffy, rescued over 300 men during the campaign at Gallipoli.

Backed by detailed research, the text includes a brief biography of the man, details of his work at Gallipoli and also the little known story of how, without realising, he rescued his childhood friend.

Donkey: The Mystique of Equus Asinus -  Tobas & Morrison

Front CoverIllustrated throughout with photographs and artworks, this unique treasury of donkeyana is for anyone who loves donkeys. 

Complete with history, lore, science, ecology, and inspirational stories celebrating the spiritual bond between humans and donkeys, "Donkey: The Mystique of Equus Asinus" expresses the joy that these saintly creatures with big, furry ears bring to our lives. Overall a lovely paean to the donkey.

An Extravagance of Donkeys - Janet Baker-Carr (2006)

An Extravagance of DonkeysThousands of years of being the beast of burden of the poor has stamped donkeys with a stigma of inferiority, but they have humour, strong wills, and a great deal of affection to give. They are curious and loyal. These are stories about friendship: the donkeys with each other and the author who established her love for her first donkey when she was very young. 

These are stories to read aloud in a family setting or perhaps by a young person who can empathize with & enjoy these often misunderstood gentle creatures. They are stories for anyone who loves animals.

Research Papers

International Strategy: A Review and next steps
The Brook’s International Strategy sets out five strategic objectives, goals and ambitions for the future to guide them to do whatever it takes to alleviate the suffering of horses, donkeys and mules working in the developing world and improving the lives of the people who depend on them.

6th International Colloquium on Working Equines

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