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’.
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.
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.