Between freedom and abandonment: social representations of free-roaming donkeys in the Brazilian Northeast

The presence of free-roaming donkeys on Brazilian Northeastern roads has significant welfare and safety implications for both humans and animals. Working donkeys have played an important historical role in regional development and are considered a cultural symbol of the Brazilian Northeast, as manifested in popular songs, tales, and other arts. Their replacement with motorized vehicles and machines has, however, led to their underuse and their proliferation as free-roaming animals. They are, therefore, reputed for their involvement in road accidents. Aside from this narrative, there is no documentation of social representations of free-roaming donkeys in Brazil. The aim of this paper is, therefore, to identify, document, and analyze social representations of free-roaming donkeys through an exploratory study based on 99 interviews conducted in Brazil. These representations were grouped and organized in a four-quadrant matrix that highlights human and nonhuman agencies. Our results show that donkey abandonment is not always perceived as an intentionally negative human attitude; donkey agency and structural and political-cultural causes are also related.

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