Looking after the mental well-being of our donkeys and mules is very important as it can affect their physical health and behaviour.
“Are my donkeys happy?” is a question that most donkey carers ask themselves from time to time. Our donkeys are well fed and physically want for very little, but once these basic needs have been met is there anything more that can be done to help them enjoy their lives?
The answer is yes. Enrichment for domesticated animals, especially those in zoos and conservation parks throughout the world, is commonly practised as a way of maintaining the well-being of their animals.
Looking after the mental well-being of our donkeys and mules is very important as it can affect both their physical health and behaviour. A frustrated or bored donkey can show reluctance to interact with us or may become dull and uninterested in life, which can lead to health problems.
What are the benefits of enrichment?
Mental stimulation helps to:
- Maintain normal behaviour
- Prevent problems associated with boredom
- Ensure that the instinctual needs are met
- Cope with the challenges of domestication
- Increase exercise
- Maintain healthy weight.
Donkeys placed through our Donkey Guardian scheme are the lucky ones, having their basic needs met, living with suitable companions and being given access to appropriate feed, shelter and human company. But as a result it can be difficult to create new activities for them. After all, we know that we have to be careful to limit treats, especially those that come in packets and are high in sugar, so we have to find other ways to make their lives varied.
Goals for enrichment are to:
- Increase behavioural diversity (give them more things to do)
- Reduce the frequencies of abnormal behaviours (reduce stress and frustration)
- Increase the range or number of normal behaviour patterns (follow their ethogram)
- Increase positive utilisation of the environment (make it easy for them to do more)
- Increase the ability to cope with the challenges in a more normal way (being calmer and coping better).
Enrichment does not mean your donkey runs around all day trying to do all the things that you have set up. Enrichment is about providing greater opportunities for your donkeys to interact with their environment, make choices and to be more mentally and physically active. Good enrichment is a mixture of changing the way we carry out routine activities like feeding and creating an environment that more fully meets our donkeys’ needs. We don't have to change everything all at once.
Try the ‘do one thing’ approach. Just think of one thing each day that you can do differently in your donkeys' environment and change it. From there develop a one week or two week programme and just write down the things that you want to change, move, create and rotate them on a 7-14 day basis so there is always something new or novel being introduced to their environment.
Enrichment is about providing greater opportunities for your donkeys to interact with their environment, make choices and to be more mentally and physically active.
With this in mind, The Donkey Sanctuary Training Centre in collaboration with our donkey-assisted therapy centres and farm teams, has created an environment enrichment online resource that is jam-packed with information and more than 50 exercises, ideas and designs for you to try with your donkeys.
Every donkey is different and it is important to assess your donkeys’ individual needs for enrichment as an older donkey may have very different needs from a young one. To help you assess your donkeys’ needs we recommend you first do the two exercises we have included in the online resource - time budgets and resource mapping - so you can assess your donkeys’ home environment and how they currently spend their time. Once completed these exercises will give you a good idea of where you can begin to improve your donkeys’ environment and then try some of the ideas we have provided for you.
Want to know more?
Information for donkey owners