The donkey, which is also commonly known as an ass, is a domesticated member of the horse family. A male donkey is known as a jack and a female is either a jenny or a jennet. There are over 40 million donkeys in the world and across the globe donkeys have been used as working animals for at least 5000 years.
Most of the donkeys on the planet are located in underdeveloped countries and it is in places such as these, where they are commonly used as draught or pack animals. Though working donkeys are often associated with those living at or below subsistence levels, there are a small number of donkeys that are kept for breeding or as pets in developed countries.
It is believed that donkeys were first domesticated around 3000 - 4000 BC, most probably in Egypt or Mesopotamia, however, now they have spread across the world. In many countries they continue to carry out a wide range of important roles and while domesticated species are increasing in numbers, the African wild ass and another relative, the Onager, are endangered. Asses and donkeys have worked together with humans for millennia as beasts of burden and companions.
Donkeys can vary considerably in size, depending on their breed and their management. Basically the height at a donkey’s withers can range from 7.3 hands to 15.3 hands high and their weight can vary from anywhere between 80 and 480 kg. In the poorer countries, a working donkey will have a lifespan of around 12-15 years, however, in more affluent countries they may have a lifespan of 30-50 years.
They are also well adapted to marginal desert lands and unlike wild and feral horses, wild donkeys in dryer areas will not form harems and tend to stay as solitary animals. Adult donkeys will establish their own home range and one jack can dominate breeding over a large area. In order to contact donkeys can perform a loud call or bray which tends to last around 20 seconds and can be heard for over three kilometres.
When it comes to their behaviour, donkeys are renowned for being rather stubborn. However, this has been attributed to a far stronger sense of ‘self preservation’ than displayed by horses. Likely based on a strong prey instinct and a weaker connection with man, it is considerably more difficult to force or frighten a donkey into doing something it perceives to be dangerous for whatever reason. Once you have earned the confidence of the donkey they will be willing and companionable partners which are very dependable when it comes to work. Formal studies of donkey behaviour is limited, however, they appear to be a semi intelligent species that is cautious, playful and friendly and they also seem eager to learn.