May 05, 2023 | Horse

World Donkey Day: Answering Common Questions About Donkeys

What is World Donkey Day?

World Donkey Day is a day dedicated to recognising the donkey and bringing attention to their many amazing characteristics. In this article, we will explore everything you need to know about this year's World Donkey Day.

Why is World Donkey Day celebrated?

For many years, the donkey has served humans around the world well as a beast of burden and mount. Donkeys are known for their endurance and persistence and are able to survive and even thrive in harsh climates and tough terrains. This makes them respected and much-loved creatures and their ability to exceed is partly due to their well-known stubborn nature

When is World Donkey Day 2023?

World Donkey Day is held annually and is celebrated on May 8th every year.

How have donkeys helped humans throughout history?

Evidence suggests that donkeys have been working for humans for centuries, and have been bred all over the world for their various uses. Donkeys helped build societies by providing energy before the invention of electricity or steam power. They can travel long distances, are sturdy, somewhat self-sufficient and can bear some rather harsh conditions. They are capable of pulling cargo for miles and can work much longer and harder than most other animals.

Can donkeys form strong bonds with humans?

Donkeys can form very strong bonds with their owners and other donkeys. They often do not start out as naturally affectionate towards humans as they are a prey species with a strong sense of self-preservation so naturally avoid predators such as humans. However, if they have a warm and welcoming home, are correctly handled and experience human kindness from a young age, they will reciprocate and show their affection to us.

How do donkeys contribute to tourism?

Donkeys work in tourism around the world. They are commonly used to transport passengers or luggage or to pull carts and wagons. They also accompany tourists on bush walks, carrying heavy equipment. They are calmer and more intelligent than horses meaning they are less likely to bolt, and their size means they are easy to mount. Their walking pace matches that of humans, ensuring a more comfortable ride and they can navigate tricky terrain.

In the UK, donkeys are still a common sight at seaside resorts and many towns have made regulations setting out the donkey’s working hours and it’s right to have one day off a week. They also stipulate the maximum age and weight of the riders.

Do donkeys have a good memory?

Donkeys have an incredible memory - they can recognise other donkeys and animals, or even areas where they have once been, for up to 25 years! A 2013 survey by The Donkey Sanctuary found that they can learn and problem-solve at the same pace as dolphins and dogs.

Are donkeys cautious animals?

Due to being a prey animal, donkeys can be very cautious of strangers although due to their stoical nature, they tend to startle less than horses. Also compared with horses, they show a limited fear response to novel situations and this is often mistaken for stubbornness rather than fear.

Do donkeys groom themselves?

Most donkeys require grooming and absolutely love it! In the winter, donkeys require a good coat to help keep them warm so they should be groomed less at this time of year compared to during the Spring and Summer when daily grooming will help remove the winter coat, keeping them cooler.

Donkeys kept together show affection for each other through mutual grooming - a process which strengthens social bonds and reduces the donkey’s parasite loads. They use both their teeth and their upper lips in a motion that starts soft but gains enthusiasm and often ends in a nip or  a bite!

What sort of weather conditions do donkeys prefer?

A study performed at The University of Portsmouth in 2019 found that whilst horses can cope with the cold and the rain, donkeys actually run for cover during a downpour and when temperatures drop below 14C. This makes sense when you consider that donkeys originated from the African wild ass in the semi-arid region of Northeast Africa, plus the fact that their coats are not waterproof. This naturally means that donkeys prefer warmer, drier, weather conditions.

Are donkeys emotional animals?

Donkeys are very social animals and like company; they develop very strong emotional attachments with other animals and for this reason, should not be kept alone. Donkeys display emotions through sounds and actions. Signs of a contented donkey include ears to the side, and holding their head low or in line with their body. When relaxed, their bottom lip will also droop as the muscles in the lip relax.

Are there different breeds of donkeys?

Donkeys come in a variety of colours and sizes with many different breeds recognised worldwide; there are 17 breeds of donkeys currently known in Europe alone.

Are donkeys able to hear well?

The large ears of the donkey help to heighten its sense of hearing, so it can pick up on the calls of herd mates, and predators, from miles away - it is said that one donkey can hear another one call from as far as 60 miles away in the desert! They can also move their ears in different directions to pinpoint where a sound is coming from.

Are donkeys able to dig for water?

A paper published in the Journal of Science in 2021 described how in arid regions of the world, feral donkeys use their hooves to dig for more than six feet to reach groundwater for themselves, in turn creating oases that serve as a boon to wildlife such as birds.

What is the biggest threat to donkeys around the world?

The greatest threat to donkeys is the skin trade; according to The Donkey Sanctuary, over 4.8 million donkeys are traded and slaughtered for their skins each year. The global trade in donkey skins results in suffering for the donkeys and donkey-dependant communities on a devastating scale. 

The biggest use of the skins is in the production of a traditional Chinese medicine product ejiao, derived from the boiled skins of donkeys. Over 3 million skins are shipped from Africa, Asia and Latin America to China for processing each year.

What are donkey sanctuaries?

Donkey sanctuaries provide lifesaving veterinary care for donkeys, educate current and future donkey owners and also offer children and adults the opportunity for self-development through donkey-human interaction. They ensure that donkeys receive excellent care and welfare and enjoy safe and fulfilled lives. They provide a refuge for rescued donkeys and offer professional training and support to would-be new owners of such rescued donkeys.

Do any donkey charities exist?

Numerous donkey charities exist around the world. In the UK, probably the most well-known one is The Donkey Sanctuary based in Sidmouth, but others such as Brooke and SPANA also exist, along with smaller, perhaps less well-known charities such as Island Farm Donkey Sanctuary which do fantastic work.

What are some ideas for celebrating World Donkey Day?

The best way to celebrate World Donkey Day is merely to research these amazing beasts and the role they have had to play in the world; if you are closeby to somewhere where you can become better acquainted with these long-eared awesome creatures, then spend time with them, observe them, learn their ways and needs and what you can do to make a difference to all those donkeys needing our help across the world. There are plenty of other ways to show your support for donkeys and improve their well-being. Many of them are in constant pain and need attention fast, and therefore donating to a donkey charity is a great, practical way to show your support.


Medically reviewed by:

Miss Joy Sarah Helen Howell

DipAVN(Surgical) RVN EA SQP