Sweat mules and donkeys

The donkey - tough worker in the service of man

Donkeys are stubborn, lazy and stupid. This is the common opinion of one of the oldest companions of man, from which the use of the term donkey as a swear word results. The bad reputation of the most classic of all workhorses, however, is completely unjustified.

Addis Ababa, just before six in the morning. The streets of the Ethiopian capital are already very busy, and the drive out of the city becomes a difficult course with moving obstacles. A single ball of cars, motorcycles, carts, people, animals: everything is in motion, everyone seems to be on the move. Honking, scolding, bleating - a lively, sometimes hectic mess, in which only some maintain stoic calm without exception: the donkeys and the mules. Loaded with sacks, wood, water containers or tied poultry, they stride along, trot calmly and sure-footed through the streets. And the further you are from the city center, the more long-eared people come towards you: as riding, draft or pack animals, many of them completely on their own and seemingly without a owner, but determined and purposefully on the way to the morning market.

Tough and frugal

The so independent donkeys and mules of Addis Ababa are representative of the 40 to 60 million conspecifics, depending on the source, that live all over the world today (a good two and a half times more than horses). Despite high tech and the economic boom, most of them help to secure the livelihood of many peoples. Frugal workhorses are irreplaceable, especially in third world countries and regions with little natural food and feed supply and a large rich-poor gap. In China alone, more than 10 million donkeys do their services for people, while Ethiopia is the frontrunner on the African continent with around 5.5 million donkeys. If one considers that donkeys and mules can be loaded with loads of 100 and more kilograms, one gets an idea of ​​how many tons of goods are moved by these animals every day.

Only about two million gray animals live in Europe, most of them in Bulgaria, Greece and Spain. In the local latitudes, most donkeys are no longer kept as work animals, but rather as "hobby animals" or companions. For example, the little donkey Moustique, who during her own childhood and youth mainly had to do “social” services as a companion and stable mate of a sport horse and only really had to work around Saturday's Saturday.

Domesticated for millennia

Donkeys were domesticated by humans six to seven millennia ago, much earlier than horses. DNA studies confirm that all today's domestic donkeys (lat. Equus asinus asinus) descend from African wild asses; The now extinct Atlas donkey from North Africa is considered to be one of the forefathers. Already 4000 BC In the 4th century BC the Nubian wild ass was made into domestic and farm animals in the Nile Valley, domestication followed a little later in Mesopotamia. Donkeys came to Europe before ancient times; the Etruscans kept house donkeys that came from Asia Minor. There are only a few real wild asses left today (e.g. the Nubian and Somali wild asses in the Horn of Africa), the majority of wild donkeys are feral domestic donkeys.

Donkeys come in countless breeds, sizes and colors: from the small Sardinian dwarf donkey to the Catalan giant donkey or the shaggy Poitou donkey from southern France. In different regions special mule (female horse with male donkey) or mule crossbreeds (donkey mare with horse stallion) are tried again and again. For example, the Mulassière in Morocco, a cross between Freiberg mares and donkey stallions. In Namibia, meanwhile, the Catalan giant donkeys are crossed with Friesian mares, which results in very strong and heat-resistant pack animals and mounts. The distribution of mules, which are mostly sterile, is greater than that of mules. This is related to mating behavior. Donkey stallions drive their chosen ones until they surrender. Donkey mares often do not allow mating at all without this foreplay, which the horse stallion is not familiar with.

Wrong treatment and suffering

The donkey owes its continued worldwide spread as a workhorse above all to its unpretentiousness. “The donkey is incredibly tough, much tougher than the horse. Compared to his body size, he can carry immense loads, is very cooperative and intelligent when handled correctly, and above all he is far cheaper to hold than the horse. " This is what Ewald Isenbügel, professor emeritus for zoo, pet and wild animal medicine at the University of Zurich, says. The longtime zoo veterinarian has dealt with equidae all his life and emphasizes the incomparable frugality of donkeys. For example, if donkeys in Cairo were let off the cart after their work, they would even eat newspapers, says the well-traveled veterinarian.

According to a study by the FAO, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, donkeys have a far higher fiber intake capacity and a lower water requirement than horses. In addition, donkeys sweat only a little, always adapting their running speed to the temperature and requirements so that the normal thermoregulatory mechanisms are not exceeded. That is why they are extremely heat-resistant. The limitless endurance that results from this, the ability to adapt to the harshest living conditions and the tireless commitment to exhaustion over the centuries have often led to incorrect treatment, hardship and suffering, writes the respected German hippologist Johannes Erich Flade in «Der Hausel ». According to Isenbügel, the fact that the donkey is exposed to more acts of cruelty to animals than the horse is also related to the fact that donkeys are kept as work animals in regions where people are very poor and have nothing to eat.

Neither toys nor lawn mowers

Scientists, experts and donkey lovers also agree on one thing: "Donkeys are clearly better than their reputation," says Isenbügel, referring to the misconception that donkeys are stubborn, lazy or even stupid. "The bad thing about donkeys is man-made," the retired professor is convinced of this. Aggressive behavior, stubbornness and other bad habits are almost always the result of bad posture, too early use as a workhorse or lack of knowledge. "Donkeys are neither toys nor lawnmowers", explains Isenbügel, referring to the keeping of animals that can be up to 40 years old in our regions and points out that donkeys need movement and guidance, like horses. "Otherwise they can get pretty cheeky and start begging and jostling."

"The donkey, stubborn in business, gives new strength to the donkey," wrote Wilhelm Busch in his verses. "Out of ignorance and ignorance," Johannes Erich Flade corrected the assessment, which is widely held. This is despite the fact that in many regions of North Africa donkeys are worshiped as gods and totem animals and the donkey also has some meaning in the Bible. The donkey's first birth was the only one other than that of humans that did not have to be sacrificed (2. Book of Moses), but could be triggered by the sacrifice of a lamb, which underlines the economic value of the animal. In addition, according to the reports of the Gospels, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a young donkey for the Passover festival a few days before the crucifixion. According to the former zoo veterinarian Heini Hofmann, it is strange that the donkey, in fables and in popular parlance, is stubborn and often stupid. Or as he put it in the textbook “The animals on the Swiss farm”: “The donkey is strong-willed, and weak-willed bipeds are scolded by donkeys. Where is the logic then? "