feral

Science and knowledge of free-roaming donkeys - a critical review

The emergence of free-roaming donkey (Equus asinus) populations globally has brought novel challenges for conservationists, land managers, and those concerned about animal welfare. We provide a review of the scientific literature pertaining to the place and role of free-roaming donkeys from 1950 until 2020. Using quantitative and qualitative techniques, namely categorical and thematic analysis and critical discourse analysis, to review >100 articles, we critically examine the logics and rationales that are used to either support or denounce donkey presence in particular landscapes and discuss their place and role in different ecological contexts. Free-roaming donkeys are largely understudied and clouded by dichotomous points of view, different conservation agendas, and the presence of other species in donkey habitat. There is an important need for more in-depth, site-specific studies on free-roaming donkeys that draw on tools and techniques from across the social and natural sciences. Such efforts would offer a richer, more holistic, and comprehensive picture of free-roaming donkeys that consider both human and animal perspectives and the wider environment. This has important implications for generating long-term sustainable management solutions for free-roaming donkeys. © 2021 The Authors. The Journal of Wildlife Management published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of The Wildlife Society.

Publication date
Research output

Free-roaming donkeys and their role in ecosystem health

Status
Researcher(s)

The emergence of free-roaming donkey populations globally has brought novel challenges for conservationists, land managers and animal welfarists alike. Donkeys (Equus asinus) are classified as ‘alien’ in sixteen countries where they are listed as being introduced by humans (IUCN-GISD 2020), and considered ‘invasive’ in countries where they are non-native and have potential to act as a threat to native biodiversity and natural ecosystems (McNeely et al. 2001). As non-native species, free-roaming donkeys are often framed as illegitimate and ‘out of place’. In places where they are deemed too numerous, donkeys are assigned labels such as ‘pest’ or ‘vermin’, further entrenching ideas of illegitimacy (Bough 2006, 2016; Celermajer and Wallach 2019). However, there has been limited research on the interface between science, policy and management for free-roaming donkeys, including the kinds of logics and rationales that are used to either support or denounce their presence in different geographical and ecological contexts.

Methodology

We used both qualitative and quantitative techniques to review over 100 scientific articles, which were identified using a snowball technique and key search terms; manually checking each article to ensure its relevance. For the quantitative analysis, articles were classified under the following categories: Publication date; Country of study; Discipline of article; Type of article (field-based; literature-based or management-based); Biome (of study area); Focus of impact (whether impacts where measured/discussed with specific reference to donkeys, or for wider groups of species); Evidencing impact (whether an article measured environmental impact, discussed environmental impact or referred to presence only). All articles were qualitatively reviewed using NVivo (v.12.0) for categorical and thematic analysis as well as critical discourse analysis. This involved the identification of different issues that regularly appeared in the literature, ascribing fine-grade codes or ‘topic codes’. We then worked from topics to themes, systematically coding these themes while reflecting on meanings, positionality and underlying agendas. We also assessed the overall framing of the article, examining the extent to which donkeys were framed in positive, negative or neutral terms.

Aims

The project includes an extensive review of the scientific literature pertaining to the place and role of free-roaming donkeys. We critically examined the logics and rationales that are used to either support or denounce donkey presence in particular landscapes and discuss their ‘ecological belonging’ in relation to such contexts. Our findings indicate that free-roaming donkeys are largely understudied, misunderstood and clouded by dichotomous points of view, different conservation agendas and the presence of other ‘higher value’ species in the same habitats. We identify a critical need for more in-depth, site-specific studies on free-roaming donkeys, using tools and techniques from across the social and natural sciences. Such efforts would offer a richer, more holistic and comprehensive picture of free-roaming donkeys, considering both human and animal perspectives and the wider environment. This has important implications for generating long-term sustainable management solutions for free-roaming donkeys.

How free-roaming donkeys are framed positively and negatively in different global agendas

Status
Researcher(s)

For thousands of years, the donkey (Equus asinus) has played an essential role in human society, underpinning the earliest forms of civilisation, facilitating critical trade networks, contributing to agricultural development, construction and mining. However, with the rise of motorised transport and agricultural machinery, the donkey was gradually turned loose in many places, and left free to roam. The emergence of free-roaming donkey populations has brought novel challenges for conservationists, land managers and animal welfarists alike. In many places they are categorised as ‘non-native’ and so framed as illegitimate and ‘out of place’.

Methodology

This project consists of a critical review of academic literature, grey literature (institutional reports, working papers, government documents), media reports, and communications with field researchers and practitioners. Articles were identified using a snowball technique (Echeverri et al., 2018), using key search phrases (‘feral donkey’, ‘wild burro’, ‘feral equus asinus’, ‘free-roaming donkey’, ‘free-ranging donkey’, ‘wild donkey’). These articles were then checked for their relevance. Articles were treated as both information sources (to elicit empirical knowledge) and as cultural artefacts (Bowen, 2009; Clarke, 2005) for categorical and thematic analysis as well as critical discourse analysis. Using these articles as representations of societal and scholarly discourse, we systematically reviewed the use of donkey labels and elicited their meaning, in order to reveal inconsistencies and underlying agendas.

Objectives

This project explores the social status of free-roaming donkeys, including how they are perceived, categorised and managed. It explores unique case studies of free-roaming donkeys around the world, including ‘wild burros in America’, ‘rewilded donkeys in Europe’, and ‘street donkeys in Brazil’. It considers how free-roaming donkeys are culturally and ecologically entangled within different landscapes, and then discusses how they might ‘belong’ to those landscapes. It finds that more attention needs to be given to the spaces and places that donkeys create and contribute to, as well as those they disrupt and challenge.

Human-animal relations in the Brazilian Northeast: a socio-anthropological case study of donkey trade

Status
Collaborator(s)
Start date
End date
Country
Methodology

In-depth semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders and social actors. This will be complemented by document analysis of relevant materials including, advertisements, manuals, background papers, letters and memoranda, newspaper articles, press releases, organisational or institutional reports and various public records. Statistical data published by official Brazilian institutions will also be reviewed, in order to support to the analysis.

Aims

This 16-month project aims to contribute to ongoing studies developed in partnership with The Donkey Sanctuary and the Veterinary and Animal Science Faculty at the University of Sao Paulo, concerning the donkey skin trade. Believing that interdisciplinarity is one of the best strategies to address multidimensional problems, this research project proposes a socio-anthropological approach to identify public perceptions of donkeys and the threats they face in the Brazilian Northeast, mainly in the state of Bahia.

Objectives

The specific objectives are: 1. To identify social actors (individuals or organisations) related to donkey trade and donkey protection in the Brazilian Northeast, especially in the state of Bahia; 2. To contextualise the scenarios where donkey trade takes place in Brazilian Northeast; 3. To identify and analyse personal and collective perceptions (social representations) constructed about donkeys (and the donkey trade) by different actors, including: rural populations; animal health authorities at local and national levels; legal authorities; animal rights organisations and welfare representatives.

Between welfare and conservation: understanding ‘risk’ in relation to feral and free-roaming donkeys

Presentation date

For thousands of years, the donkey (Equus asinus) has played an essential role in human society, underpinning the earliest forms of civilisation, providing critical trade networks, and contributing to modern western history through the colonisation of the ‘New World’. Yet, with the advent of motorised transport and agricultural machinery the role of the donkey has diminished in many parts of the world. No longer considered economically viable, donkeys have been turned loose over the years and left to fend for themselves (Mitchell, 2018). These feral and semi-feral donkeys are domesticated animals that have managed to re-adapt, survive and reproduce on their own, without human management. Australia now holds the world’s largest population of feral donkeys – thought to be around 5 million individuals. Here, they are framed as pests; no longer seen as useful to society or fitting for the landscapes in which they dwell. In these situations, donkeys can suffer due to local mistreatment or government attempts to contain the problem, as is the case with the controversial Judas Collar programme in Australia (Bough, 2006). Currently, very little is known about the welfare status of feral and free-roaming donkeys globally. Due to their ambiguous status (being neither owned nor wild) there is often a grey area with respect to their legal status, rights and protections. This paper suggests that more research is needed to understand how welfare issues are defined and prioritised in relation to feral donkeys – both at the individual level and population level.

Subscribe to feral