Feral donkeys in Australia

Feral donkeys in Australia

Feral donkeys in Australia (and elsewhere) are donkeys (scientific name Equus asinus) which escaped from captivity, and are living and breeding in the wild. Donkeys originated in Africa and also parts of Asia. They are animals which are horse-like but their ancestors are the wild asses. They are a part of the Equidae family.

The donkeys were primarily brought to Australia in the early 1800s simply because the Australians needed better transportation. Up until that point, the Australians had been using the horse as their main mode of transportation. However, a problem arose when the horses used in transportation began to continually get sickened by some of the poisonous plants. When donkeys proved to be invulnerable to the plants that were making the horses so sick, the donkeys were brought in. Escape was common because of the lack of fences, and there were reported herds by the 1920s. In western Australia in 1949, there were enough of the donkeys for them to officially be declared a pest.

Food Sources

Donkeys are herbivores, and only eat vegetation. All year round, the donkeys go grazing, looking for grass, shrubs, and the bark of trees. Donkeys usually graze for 6 to 7 hours a day and can go a fair distance from water sources. This means that donkeys can cause many problems to the environment. There are over 5 million donkeys living in Australia which means that the donkeys eat a lot of the vegetation. The donkeys can find food easily in winter if it is wet, however, the rest of the year, it is hard for donkeys to find food because there is usually a drought. This causes the donkeys to have less food, which means that they may need extra food given to them from humans.

Ecological Impact

The donkeys have a serious impact on the environment they live in. The biggest problems are that they spread weeds through seeds in their hair and feces, damage vegetation by overeating it, foul watering holes in the drought season, and cause erosion with their hard hooves. These damages, particularly those to the watering holes, have the potential to make native plants and animals locally extinct. The donkeys also have an impact on local agriculture. They sometimes can over eat pasture grasses and destroy fences. They are also known to infect domestic animals with diseases.

Control

Since there are an overpopulation of the donkeys in Australia, they are often controlled by being mustered. Helicopters with highly trained and accredited shooters have replaced this technique in places where the terrain makes mustering too difficult. Also seeing some limited use is fertility control. This, however, is difficult with large numbers of undomesticated animals and it is unknown whether this technique will make a difference on such a large number of animals.

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