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Looking after the mental well-being of our donkeys and mules is very important as it can affect their physical health and behaviour.
Physical and mental enrichment is essential to the well-being of donkeys and mules. Enrichment helps to maintain normal behaviour, prevent problems associated with boredom, ensures their instinctual needs are met, increases exercise and maintains a healthy weight, to name but a few.
In 2019 a group of fourteen donkeys from Co. Cork came into our care. Parsley was one of the youngest donkeys in this group. Unused to being handled, he was nervous and frightened.
Parsley was thin and his lice infested coat was dirty and matted. The New Arrivals team knew they needed to treat Parsley urgently. Given that Parsley was a wild foal - due to lack of human contact before his rescue - he was sedated in order for his coat to be fully clipped.
Ask any American about the Irish and their donkeys and they will tell you about a Connemara landscape where a red headed boy and his little sister are loading turf into the creels (baskets) on the back of a donkey. What they actually remember is a famous postcard by the late John Hinde who had a post card printing business in Dublin. He was a pioneer of colour photography and at his peak he sold over 50 million postcards annually. There was no email, Facebook or Instagram back in his day, yet the popularity of his postcards led to them being posted all over the world. The card featuring the boy loading turf onto the donkey was probably one of the most iconic images of its day.
Earlier this year the owners of a donkey named Dylan reached out to us for help as they were having difficulty handling and managing him. Welfare adviser Ciara O’Kelly responded and found that Dylan had lived as a solitary donkey for the past three years. Dylan had developed behavioural habits commonly seen when young male donkeys are kept without a suitable companion. Ciara recognised that Dylan would benefit from donkey company and appropriate human interaction and recommended that he come into our care.
Although donkeys share ancestral origins with horses, they have evolved differently over millions of years and are different. Domestication has done little yet to dull their natural instincts. Dullness (in the sense of apparent despondency) in donkeys is as serious as colic or long-bone fracture in horses: the dull donkey may already be suffering (but hiding) a terminal illness. We sometimes mistake 'stoicism' for indifference. The ‘stoic’ donkey will often mask severe signs of disease – it is not that he is not suffering. It is more that he doesn’t wish to show weakness to the world, as the latter is not a good survival strategy in the wild.
The Donkey Sanctuary remains at the forefront of donkey welfare issues, promoting responsible ownership, health care and addressing the over production of donkeys in Ireland. We identified a worrying trend from the beginning of 2019 of unwanted donkey foals of which 12 alone this year have been relinquished into our care.