The donkey is one of the most famous animals, it was domesticated at the dawn of civilization and played a very important role in its development. Hardy donkeys performed a very large amount of work in transporting people and heavy things, and at the same time did not require much. Domesticated donkeys are now numerous all over the world, but their wild form has been preserved in nature.
Origin of the species and description
Donkeys are equine. Their ancestors appeared at the beginning of the Paleogene: these are barylambs and they looked more like dinosaurs than donkeys and horses – a fat animal more than two meters long, it had a short five-toed leg, which nevertheless already looked a bit like a hoof. Eohippuses descended from them – animals that lived in the forests the size of a small dog, the number of fingers they had decreased to four on the front legs and three on the back. They lived in North America, and mesogippus appeared there – they already had three fingers on all legs. In other ways, they are also a little closer to modern horses.
All this time, evolution proceeded rather slowly, and the key change occurred in the Miocene, when conditions changed and the ancestors of the horses had to switch to feeding on dry vegetation. Then a merigippus arose – an animal much higher than its immediate ancestors, about 100-120 cm. It also had three fingers, but relied on only one of them – a hoof appeared on it, and its teeth also changed. Then came pliogippus, the first one-toed animal of this series. Due to changing living conditions, they finally moved from the forests to open spaces, became larger, adapted to a fast and long run.
Modern horses began to replace them about 4.5 million years ago. The first representatives of the genus were striped and had a short head, like a donkey. They were the size of a pony. The scientific description of the donkey was made by Carl Linnaeus in 1758, he received the name Equus asinus. It has two subspecies: Somali and Nubian – the former are larger and darker. It is believed that domesticated donkeys are descended from the crossing of representatives of these subspecies.
Appearance and features
The structure of a wild donkey is similar to that of a horse. Unless he is somewhat lower – 100-150 cm, has five lumbar vertebrae instead of six, his head is larger, and his body temperature is slightly lower. The coat of a donkey is usually light gray to black in color. Rarely, but individuals of a white color scheme come across. The muzzle is lighter than the body, as is the belly. Tassel at the end of the tail. The mane is short and straight, the bangs are small and the ears are long. There are almost always stripes on the legs – by this sign a wild donkey can be distinguished from domestic ones, the latter do not have them.
Donkey hooves are notable: their shape is excellent for moving over rough terrain, unlike horses, because they are used for crossing mountainous terrain. But for a fast and long ride, such hooves are much worse than those of horses, although donkeys are capable of developing comparable speed in short stretches. The origin from the arid area makes itself felt even in the case of domesticated animals: a humid climate is harmful to the hooves, cracks often occur in them, and due to the introduction of pathogens, rotting occurs and the hooves begin to hurt. Therefore, you need to constantly look after them.
Interesting fact: In ancient Egypt, the number of donkeys a person measured his wealth. Some had a thousand heads! It was donkeys who gave a strong impetus to trade due to their ability to transport heavy loads over long distances.
Where does the donkey live?
BC, already in historical times, wild donkeys inhabited almost all of North Africa and the Middle East, but after domestication, their range began to rapidly decline. This happened due to several factors: ongoing domestication, mixing wild individuals with domestic ones, displacement from their original territories due to their development by people.
By the New Age, wild donkeys remained only in the most inaccessible territories with excessively dry and hot climate. These animals are well adapted to it, and these lands are sparsely populated, which allowed the donkeys to survive. Although the decline in their numbers and reduction in range continued, and did not stop even in the 21st century, it is already happening much more slowly than before.
By 2019, their range includes lands located in the territories of such countries as:
It should be emphasized that donkeys are not found throughout the entire territory of these countries, and not even in a significant part, but only in remote areas of a small area. There is evidence that the once large population of Somali donkeys, already significantly reduced, was finally exterminated during the civil war in this country. Researchers have not yet tested whether this is true.
In the other countries listed, the situation is not much better: there are very few wild donkeys living in them, so low genetic diversity is added to the problems that caused their numbers to decline earlier. The only exception is Eritrea, which still has a fairly large population of wild donkeys. Therefore, according to the predictions of scientists, in the coming decades, their range and nature will be reduced to only Eritrea.
At the same time, it is necessary to distinguish them from wild donkeys that have run wild: these are once already domesticated and changed animals, then again found themselves without supervision and accustomed in the wild. There are many of them around the world: they are known in Europe, Asia, and North America. In Australia, they multiplied extremely, and now there are about 1.5 million of them – but they will not become real wild donkeys anyway.
Now you know where the wild donkey lives. Let's see what he eats.
What does a donkey eat?
In nutrition, these animals are as unpretentious as in everything else. The wild donkey eats almost any plant food that it can find in the area where it lives.
The diet includes:
- leaves shrubs;
- branches and leaves of trees;
- even prickly acacia.
You have to eat almost any vegetation that you can find, because they have no choice. Often they have to look for it for a long time in the poor area where they live: these are deserts and dry rocky lands, where rare stunted bushes are found every few kilometers. All oases and river banks are occupied by people, and wild donkeys are afraid to come close to settlements. As a result, they have to make do with a scarce diet with very few nutrients, and sometimes not eat at all for a long time – and they are able to endure this with fortitude.
A donkey can starve for days and at the same time does not lose strength – domesticated resistance is to a lesser extent, but also inherent, in many respects they are valued for this. They can also go without water for a long time – it is enough for them to get drunk once every three days. Other wild animals in Africa, like antelopes or zebras, although they also live in arid conditions, need to drink daily. At the same time, donkeys can drink bitter water from desert lakes – most other ungulates are not capable of this.
Interesting fact: An animal can lose a third of the moisture in the body and not weaken. After finding the source, getting drunk, it immediately compensates for the loss and will not feel any negative effects.
Character and Lifestyle Features
The time of activity is dictated by nature itself – during the day it is hot, and therefore wild donkeys rest, having found a place in the shade and, if possible, cooler. They leave the shelter and begin to look for food with the onset of twilight, doing this all night. If it was not possible to refresh themselves, they can continue with the onset of dawn. In any case, this does not last long: it soon becomes hot, and they still have to look for shelter so as not to lose too much moisture due to the scorching sun.
The donkey can do all this both alone and as part of a herd. Often, moving in one direction night after night, wild donkeys roam over long distances. They do this in search of more abundant vegetation, but their wanderings are limited by civilization: having stumbled upon places developed by man, they turn back to their wild lands. At the same time, they move slowly so as not to overheat and not to spend too much energy.
The need to save energy is so ingrained in their minds that even the descendants of long-domesticated animals move just as leisurely, and it is very difficult to induce a donkey to increase speed, even if you feed and drink it well in cool weather. They have excellent eyesight and hearing, they were previously necessary against predators: donkeys noticed hunters from afar and could flee from them. There were just rare moments when they developed high speed – up to 70 km/h.
There are almost no predators in their range now, but they have remained very cautious. Individuals living alone are territorial: each donkey occupies an area of 8-10 square kilometers and marks its boundaries with dung heaps. But even if a congener violates these boundaries, the owner usually does not show aggression – at least until the aggressor decides to mate with his female.
Social structure and reproduction
Wild donkeys live both singly and in herds of several dozen individuals. Single animals often gather in groups near water bodies. There is always a leader in the herd – the largest and strongest, no longer young donkey. When it is usually a lot of females – there may be about a dozen, and young animals. Females reach sexual maturity by three years, and males by four. They can mate at any time of the year, but most often do it in the spring. During the mating season, males become aggressive, solitary individuals (“bachelors”) can attack the leaders of the herds to replace them – only then will they be able to mate with the females of the herd.
But the fights are not very cruel: in their course, opponents usually do not receive mortal wounds, and the loser leaves to continue to lead a solitary lifestyle and try his luck the next time he gets stronger. Pregnancy lasts more than a year, after which one or two cubs are born. The mother feeds young donkeys with milk for up to 6-8 months, then they begin to feed on their own. They can remain in the herd until they reach puberty, then the males leave it – to start their own or wander alone.
Interesting fact: This is a very loud animal, its cries during the mating season can hear from more than 3 km away.
Natural enemies of donkeys
Previously, donkeys were hunted by lions and other large cats. However, in the area where they now live, neither lions nor other large predators are found. These lands are too poor and, as a result, inhabited by a small amount of prey. Therefore, in nature, the donkey has very few enemies. Rarely, but it is still possible to meet wild donkeys with predators: they are able to notice or hear the enemy at a fairly large distance, and are always on the alert, therefore it is difficult to take them by surprise. Realizing that he is being hunted, the wild donkey quickly runs away, so that even the lions find it difficult to keep up with him.
But he cannot maintain high speed for a long time, therefore, if there are no shelters nearby, he has to come face to face with a predator. In such a situation, donkeys desperately fight back and are even capable of causing serious damage to the attacker. If a predator has aimed at a whole flock, then it is easiest for him to overtake even small donkeys, but adult animals usually try to protect their herd. The main enemy of wild donkeys is man. It is because of the people that their numbers have dwindled so much. The reason for this was not only the displacement to increasingly remote and infertile lands, but also hunting: donkey meat is quite edible, and besides, local residents in Africa consider it healing.
Interesting fact: Stubbornness is considered a disadvantage of donkeys, but in fact, the reason for their behavior is that even domesticated individuals have a self-preservation instinct – unlike horses. Therefore, the donkey cannot be driven to death, he feels well where the limit of his strength is. So the tired donkey will stop to rest and won't be able to move it.
Population and species status
The species has long been in the Red Book as being on the verge of extinction, and its overall population has only decreased since then. There are different estimates: according to optimistic data, there can be up to 500 wild donkeys in total in all territories where they live. Other scientists believe that the figure of 200 individuals is more correct. According to the second assessment, all populations except the Eritrean have become extinct, and those wild donkeys that are occasionally seen in Ethiopia, Sudan, and so on, in fact, have long been not wild, but their hybrids with feral ones.
The decrease in the population was primarily due to the fact that all the main watering places and pastures in those places where donkeys used to live were occupied by people. Despite the adaptability of donkeys to the most severe conditions, it is very difficult to survive in the territories where they now live, and she simply could not feed a large number of these animals. Another problem for the conservation of the species: a large number of feral donkeys.
They live on the edge of the range of real wild ones, and interbreed with them, as a result of which the species degenerates – their descendants can no longer be classified as wild donkeys. An attempt was made to acclimatize in the Israeli desert – so far it has been successful, the animals have taken root in it. There is a chance that their population will begin to grow, especially since this territory is part of their historical range.
As a species listed in the Red Book, the wild donkey must be protected by the authorities of the countries in which it lives. But he was not lucky: in most of these states, the protection of rare species of animals is not even thought about. What kind of conservation measures can we even talk about in a country like Somalia, where for many years the law does not work at all and chaos reigns?
Previously, a large population lived there, but it was almost completely destroyed due to the lack of at least some protection measures. The situation in neighboring states is not fundamentally different either: no protected areas are created in the habitats of donkeys, and they can still be hunted. They are really protected only in Israel, where they were settled in the reserve, and in zoos. In them, wild donkeys are bred to preserve the species – they breed well in captivity.
Interesting fact: In Africa, these animals are trained and used for smuggling. They are loaded with goods and allowed along inconspicuous mountain paths to a neighboring country. The product itself is not necessarily prohibited, more often it just costs more from neighbors, and is transported illegally to avoid duties when crossing the border. . Moreover, it can even be trained to hide from the border guards. If he is still caught, then there is nothing to take from the animal – do not plant it. Smugglers will lose it, but remain free.
Donkeys are very smart and useful animals. It is not surprising that even in the age of motor vehicles, people continue to keep them – especially in mountainous countries, where it is often impossible to drive a car, but it is easy on a donkey. But there are so few real wild donkeys left in nature that they are even threatened with extinction.