Social structure & communication in donkeys

Social Structure
  • Donkeys are very social animals.  A lone donkey kept as a pet needs a friend of either another donkey, horse or other animal.
  • Feral donkeys live in small bands of females with their current and previous year’s female offspring.
  • There is a strong bond between mother and offspring, established very soon after birth.  Foals are weaned when the next foal is born.
  • These bands will contain some juvenile males, but mature males are generally solitary except at mating time when they form harems which they defend against competitors. 
  • Fights among males for control of the harem can be very savage, with kicking and biting any part they can get hold of.  The long ears are very vulnerable in fights.
  • Where horses flee from danger, donkeys stand and face up to the threat or predator.  They will bite and kick with both front and rear feet, and stand with heads high, nostrils flared and teeth bared.  And they add their loud bray to their collection of defenses.
  • Donkeys are natural followers.  Often in a group grazing in a field, when called they’ll form up in line to be led by the lead donkey, rather than making their own way to the caller.
  • Donkeys have very sensitive ears and love them ears scratched.  If you rub the ears gently from the poll area, the donkey slowly lowers its head and appears to dose off in ecstasy.
Communication
  • The donkey bray is unique, and the sound travels for very long distances.
  • The variations in the bray that humans can detect must denote different information to the donkey.
  • Like the horse, donkeys use a wide range of body language to communicate.
  • Donkeys can indicate their mood with their head, angle of neck, body and tail.
  • The way they move too gives clear messages from the quiet amble of the Jenny and foal to the aggressive chase of the Jack after a predator or Jenny in heat.
  • Around the eyes and ears of a donkey is a very personal area – so avoid touching them here on first greeting.
  • Donkeys mutual groom each other, standing together using their teeth along each other’s neck, withers and shoulders scratching the hair gently and gently nibbling with their teeth.
  • Scratching a donkey under its chin is a very effective way to make friends with the animal.

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