Making life more interesting!
Here in the veterinary projects and development department we are keen to undertake studies that improve the health and welfare of donkeys in our care. When we were approached by Emily Daniel from the University of Exeter asking if she could carry out a study looking at donkey behaviour we had the perfect project in mind!
Donkeys are very inquisitive animals and enjoy investigating new objects. Some of our younger residents are particularly keen on playing and socialising and we asked Emily to evaluate different 'enrichment' objects for these donkeys to see which would be their favourites.
You may have heard of environmental enrichment being used in zoos and wildlife parks. The concept is not a new one and involves providing animals under managed care with environmental stimuli. The goal of environmental enrichment is to improve an animal's quality of life by increasing physical activity and stimulating natural behaviours.
Using our prior knowledge we decided to test a number of different enrichment objects on a group of our younger donkeys living at Slade House Farm. Over a period of four months we introduced different objects, the objects included tyre buckets, footballs, equine play balls, dog toys, scent impregnated balls and different kinds of logs.
The results of the trial were very interesting with individual animals liking some of the items but not others. The males in the group were much more interested in the 'toys' than the girls and were particularly keen on playing with the buckets made of rubber - in some cases using them for a version of tug of war! Unfortunately the footballs, equine play balls and rope dog toys were not to the liking of the donkeys who mostly ignored them!
The next trial looked at balls with scents inside - the scents we chose were peppermint, ginger and chamomile. Peppermint and ginger have been shown to increase activity levels in mammals while chamomile has been shown to increase restfulness. The donkeys were very keen on the new smells despite the fact that they couldn't eat them! The donkeys were so interested in the peppermint and ginger scented balls that the time they spent grazing decreased and their activity levels increased.
The final part of the study was to provide the donkeys with logs from non-poisonous trees. It is well known that donkeys enjoy browsing as well as grazing and love the opportunity to get their teeth into something a little more substantial on occasion. The logs that we provided were the enrichment that entertained the donkeys for longest with many of them spending considerable amounts of time chewing the barks and investigating the objects.
This study showed that given the opportunity donkeys enjoy investigating and playing with new objects and that by providing a variety in the donkeys’ daily lives we can make things more interesting for our residents. Interestingly the items that we thought would be most successful such as the balls and dog toys were the least successful! However the cheapest enrichment, the logs, were most popular with our donkeys and kept them entertained for hours!