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The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimated more than 40 million donkeys lived worldwide in 2011, three-quarters of them in Africa and Asia. Countries with the most donkeys include China, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Egypt and Mexico. A donkey's living conditions are usually determined by his relationship with the people who share his habitat.
The wild African ass, from which domestic donkeys originated, survives in the countries making up the Horn of Africa, according to Ronald M. Nowak, editor of "Walker's Mammals of the World." Wild donkeys living elsewhere in the world are not actually wild donkeys. They are feral domestic donkeys, often called burros. In the United States, an estimated 5,800 burros lived in five Western states in 2012, according to the Bureau of Land Management. These burros roam free on BLM-managed rangeland in Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon and Utah.
Donkeys have served as pack and draft animals for about 5,000 years. Today, millions of people living in developing countries rely on donkeys to till fields, transport produce and other products to market, carry water, pull carts and work in mills. Such donkeys live wherever is most convenient for their owners. Some live on farms in corrals, and some live in urban environments -- even inside houses. Donkeys work in developed countries, too. They are highly affectionate and patient. For this reason, donkeys serve in equine therapy programs for disabled riders. Donkeys sometimes serve as foal or stable companions because of their calming effect on horses. These donkeys typically live in stables and spend time out in pastures during the day.
Donkeys are lovable, intelligent animals that aren't necessarily all workers. some are kept as pets. They may live in a stable at night and a pasture during the day to graze; others may live in a pasture day and night. It is important that donkeys have access to some type of shelter for protection from wind and rain. A sturdy lean-to will do. Donkeys originate from warm climates; in a region with ice and snow, donkeys need a warm stable or barn.
Hundreds of donkeys require rescuing each year. Some are abandoned, others abused and seized. Some donkeys are surrendered to rescues by owners unable to care for them any longer. In the United States, some are feral donkeys captured by the Bureau of Land Management and placed for adoption to control protected herd populations. These rescued donkeys live in animal sanctuaries operated by nonprofit animal rescue groups. The size and scope of these sanctuaries vary greatly from a few donkeys to hundreds. Understanding the needs of donkeys, rescue groups provide shelter and pasture acreage for grazing. Sturdy fences made of wood planks or wood posts and wire enclose the pastures and keep the donkeys safe.
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: FAOSTAT
- Walker's Mammals of the World; Ronald M. Nowak
- U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management: Wild Horse and Burro Quick Facts
- The Donkey Sanctuary: Helping Donkeys Worldwide
- Smithsonian.com: Morocco's Extraordinary Donkeys
- Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue: The Plight of the American Donkey
- Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images