Our research and operational support team works in collaboration with experts around the world to improve our understanding of donkeys and their welfare. Sharing our findings is an important part of what we do to help educate and inform at all levels.

We are affectionately known as the ROpS team and we total 80+ members of staff. The ROpS team encompasses research, operational support, new arrivals, pathology laboratory, data and vets.

The research team

The Donkey Sanctuary’s research team works in collaboration with experts around the world to improve understanding of donkeys and their welfare requirements.

Our projects range from small in-house studies developed on a need basis, to larger commissioned projects spanning three years or more. Sharing our findings is an important part of our work, to help educate and inform at all levels of society, from academia to rural communities

We have worked with many of the UK’s leading universities as well as overseas institutions and our research crosses many academic fields including veterinary science, behaviour, nutrition, microbiology, social science, anthrozoology and working equids. In short, nothing that contributes to improving donkey welfare is beyond our remit.

Half of our research team is dedicated to domestic research, while the other half faces very different challenges conducting global research.

Since its inception, our team has conducted and led many ground-breaking projects that have changed the way we manage our UK herds and helped us make progress in disease prevention. Guided by the findings of our research, we have significantly reduced the rate of impaction colic and gastric ulcers on our farms, due to changes in management and feeding. We also have a greater understanding of hyperlipaemia (a potentially fatal condition in donkeys), and of which donkeys are most at risk of developing it.

As well as co-ordinating research projects, in conjunction with the vet team we also coordinate the nutrition and parasitology management of our resident UK and European donkeys.

The operational support team

The Donkey Sanctuary’s operational-support team works to develop and deliver high quality operational-support services for donkey welfare projects globally.

Our team consists of trained experts who provide direct technical assistance to The Donkey Sanctuary’s sustainable donkey-welfare and research programmes, which are often run in collaboration with global partners. We are assigned to projects either as individuals or in teams, to work on short-term assignments or as part of a wider, on-going programme.

We work with the other teams in The Donkey Sanctuary to develop competency in all areas of technical expertise including behaviour, welfare assessment, education, saddlery and harness.

We also undertake the collection and analysis of impact-assessment data and case studies, and develop, monitor and evaluate approaches to assess the impact of our expertise. To ensure the broadest impact of our work, we develop mentoring and training programmes to provide further dissemination of technical skills globally, using a competency-development approach.

The new arrivals team

The Donkey Sanctuary’s new-arrivals team takes care of every donkey that comes into our care from outside the organisation.

All new arrivals spend a minimum of six weeks in the new-arrivals unit before they are permanently homed on our farms. During this period the donkeys undergo a range of assessments and treatments to make sure all of their requirements are met and to reduce any possible introduction of disease into our resident herds.

We work around the clock to settle the donkeys in and get to know them in order to minimise the stress of a new environment, and to keep a close eye out for any signs of illness or disease. We work with the veterinary department to ensure all donkeys have all the necessary health checks and treatments they might need, including routine medicals, analysis of dung samples, blood tests, vaccinations, dentals, and farriery work.

Some new arrivals have been badly handled or completely unhandled, so we work hard to develop and put in place a training programme, with the aim of encouraging the donkeys to relax around humans and to enjoy human contact. This makes it easier for us to carry out everyday tasks such as grooming, which in turn helps improve the donkeys’ overall welfare.

All of the information we gather in the new-arrivals unit helps us choose an appropriate new home (eg one of our farms or centres, or an external home through our Rehoming Scheme) according to each individual donkey’s needs.

The pathology laboratory team

The Donkey Sanctuary’s pathology laboratory team runs all of the charity’s in-house laboratory analytical tests and is located on Brookfield Farm, Devon, next door to The Donkey Sanctuary’s veterinary hospital.

Our team members include qualified vets, specialists with PhDs and Masters qualifications, scientists and staff from commercial laboratories. Our pathologist is a Member of both the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and an Associate Member of the Royal College of Pathologists, and is currently working towards becoming a Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists.

The pathology lab provides critical diagnostic support to the veterinary department – for example, turning over urgent blood results within an hour, which can mean the difference between life and death for a seriously ill donkey. Our tests, including routine screening, testing urine samples, and parasitology, help ensure the correct diagnoses, and verify that treatment is working. All our equipment is calibrated to give donkey-specific results.

We also conduct a post mortem (PM) examination on every donkey in our care who dies. The resulting information can benefit the lives of countless donkeys across the UK and globally; one outcome initiated by our PM findings is a 70% reduction in fatal impaction-colic cases following feed-management changes on our farms.

As well as providing in-house services, we also assist donkeys in private homes, in return for a donation, process blood samples sent in by external veterinary practices, and help external veterinary practices to make vital diagnostic decisions for sometimes critically ill donkeys.

The data and statistics team

The Donkey Sanctuary’s data and statistics team is a mixed group of data scientists, statisticians, geographic information systems specialists and equine experts who work together to better understand donkey data.

Data is everywhere in the 21st century and at The Donkey Sanctuary we understand that good data can make the world a better place for donkeys. Collaboration is key to this team, and we work closely with every department in the organisation. This involves helping The Donkey Sanctuary’s staff – including grooms, dental technicians and veterinary surgeons – to monitor the animals in our care, through to working with partner organisations to make sure we understand all of the information collected on different donkey populations across the globe. On any given day we might spend the morning out on a farm talking to vets about how best to record herd health information, and the afternoon discussing welfare assessments with a partner in Nepal or Mexico.

Our team members have skills and experience across the data lifecycle, from accurately collecting data in the field, to storing, analysing and sharing that data. Our goal is to make sure that when someone makes a decision about a donkey or mule, they have the most reliable and up-to-date information to hand, and are in turn empowered to improve the welfare of donkeys globally by feeding into best-practice information.

The vet team

The Donkey Sanctuary’s veterinary team is made up of vets, nurses, equine dental technicians, grooms and administration staff, all based at the sanctuary’s purpose-built veterinary hospital on Brookfield Farm.

Together, our team is responsible for:

  • the overall delivery of veterinary care to all donkeys and mules in the care of The Donkey Sanctuary in the UK and across Europe
  • the development and delivery of donkey-specific veterinary education to external veterinarians and donkey handlers around the world
  • the delivery of improvements to donkey health and welfare globally.

On site at Brookfield Farm we provide clinical care to resident donkeys and mules via both ambulatory and hospital-based services. This includes advanced dentistry, diagnostic work-up of medical and orthopaedic cases, laser removal of sarcoids, monitoring herd health, and developing preventative healthcare programmes. We act as a referral centre for veterinary surgeons around the world seeking advice on all aspects of donkey health and welfare, as well as creating educational materials delivering training for vets, paraprofessionals and owners.

Our team includes specialists with interests in pain management, behaviour, dentistry, foot care, orthopaedics, internal medicine, reproduction, low-stress-handling techniques, parasitology, welfare, education, preventative medicine and donkey mental health.