Throughout history donkeys have been by our side. Find out about the importance of donkeys and why we should care.

Donkeys have been a cornerstone in human existence and they still prop up entire communities today, ferrying water, food and crops. They are highly intelligent creatures, sociable and calm, capable of independent thinking and decision making. They are strong and won’t do something they consider unsafe, which makes them a great, trusted companion. Donkeys are, quite simply, amazing. 

There are over 44 million donkeys worldwide and sadly so many are subjected to neglect and abuse, overworked and left in agony to die. This happens due to a lack of education, a lack of understanding of what good care looks like and the hardships of day to day life facing families and communities across the world. Many drive their donkeys into the grave simply out of a need to survive, to ensure their children and families are fed and sheltered. And when those families can no longer depend on their donkeys, more often than not its women, children and particularly girls who feel the impact most. Everyone’s lives are destroyed. 

More recently we’ve seen the horrific impact of the illegal and unsustainable donkey skin trade. Donkeys across the world are being stolen from families that rely on them, slaughtered and skinned. All because the gelatine in their hide is a key ingredient in a traditional Chinese medicine called ejiao. With a growing middle class, demand for ejiao has sky rocketed and now its big business. 

Here at The Donkey Sanctuary our work transforms lives. We provide lifesaving veterinary care, we train vets and we educate current and future donkey owners. We deliver donkey assisted therapy to support children and adults with special educational needs or those suffering from chronic illness. And, of course, we provide sanctuary to donkeys who have been neglected, abused and abandoned. 

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Donkey welfare strengthens livelihoods

In rural areas, donkeys are often used in farming and as transportation: they pulls ploughs and carts, deliver goods to market, and collect water from wells. In urban areas, they are mainly used in construction, transport of people and goods, and refuse collection. By enabling their owners to participate in work, they boost economic capacity in a region. So much so that in Ethiopia there is a saying: ‘If you don’t have a donkey, then you are a donkey.’

Compassion for donkeys means access to water

Millions of people across the world spend several hours every day collecting the precious resource of safe, clean water. Livestock production is also dependent on ready access to water. The simple act of donkeys carrying water reduces time required accessing it. 

Strong donkeys build resilience

The extra income generated through working animals also allows people to save money, reinvest in growth and fund access to education. Donkeys’ ability to transport goods increases potential for wider access to quality nutrition in the community through local food markets. Donkeys are often the most valuable asset people own and the largest expense if they need to be replaced. Protection of animals is therefore a key consideration within disaster preparedness and resilience.

Healthy donkeys mean more productive farming

As well as working donkeys increasing productivity by reducing the time and labour in the field or on farm transportation, they enable farmers to go ‘the missing mile’ to market, often in otherwise inaccessible areas. This ensures farmers can turn their crops to cash, while allowing the community to access more diverse foods.

Healthy donkeys empower women

Evidence shows women often rely on working animals to do tasks they would otherwise have to perform themselves, from collecting water and tilling land to transporting goods. By enabling women to be economically active, they also increase their community status. This economic capability can prevent the worst forms of destitution for lone women, whether working in rural or urban settings.

Caring for donkeys enables education

Donkeys provide the additional income to enable access to education for children. By carrying out labour otherwise done by people, they also help parents give children the care and attention they need at home.

Donkeys teach us, too

These social and intelligent sentient beings have a unique capacity to bond with each other and with humans, their heart rates even synchronising with those with whom they come into contact. This is evidenced by our donkey-assisted therapy programme for vulnerable children and adults. While our staff facilitate the programme, it is the donkeys who do the work — their bond is independent, intuitive, autonomous; their connection with people both teaches us about them, and teaches us about ourselves. Children and adults in need learn from the physical and emotional experience with these exceptional creatures.

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