One of the jobs of the staff at our farms and Donkey Assisted Therapy centres is that of informing and entertaining the public with stories and photographs of the lovely donkeys in our care. Here at the Birmingham centre we have Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages where people can enjoy the anecdotes and pictures of the day-to-day lives of our donkeys. For those who don’t have social media accounts, we print off as many pictures as we can to display around our centre. People love photos of all of our donkeys, but we have always found that a certain image goes down better than any other… that of our donkeys ‘smiling’!
Our three most ‘liked’ images on our Facebook page are those of our three adoption donkeys giving us their best smile. Oscar, Moses and Cisco curl their lip up, show their teeth and give us and the visitors a warm, happy feeling (Moses in particular is especially renowned for ‘smiling’ quite often).
There are two main things the donkeys are doing in these pictures - and one of them is something we all do - yawning! Just like us, a donkey will yawn if sleepy, a quick way to cool and get excess oxygen to the brain. We’re not sure whether donkey yawns are as infectious as human yawns - but you are welcome to come and watch them to find out.
The second thing a donkey might be doing when we see them ‘smile’ is something that a number of animals do, such as horses, tigers and goats, but not us humans. This is called the ‘Flehmen response’. Donkeys will curl up their top lip and expose their front teeth and they will often do this around smells that they find new or interesting.
So what are the donkeys doing? The Flehmen response helps transfer these new smells to an organ just above the roof of the mouth (called the Jacobson’s organ) that processes all these new smells! We often find that our donkeys will do this around smells such as ginger biscuits, donkey urine and the perfume of visitors.
So next time you see a donkey smiling ask yourself: Is she yawning? Is he smelling? Or are they just having a good laugh at you?