Thursday, May 23, 2019

Horse and donkeys seek shelter for different reasons
Donkeys are far more sensitive to Britain's cold, wet weather than horses, and may need more protection from the elements, according to new research funded by the Donkey Sanctuary. 

Perhaps it’s not surprising, given that domestic donkeys are thought to have descended from wild asses adapted to semi-arid areas in north Africa, while the ancestors of the modern horse came from more temperate zones in Eurasia.

The Donkey Sanctuary study involved collaboration with the University of Portsmouth, Canterbury Christ Church University, the Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust, and natural horse management expert Lucina McAlpine.

Over a period of 16 months the research team studied 208 healthy, semi-free-ranging donkeys and horses in Devon and Somerset.

They monitored the location of each animal (inside a constructed shelter, using a natural shelter – such as hedges and trees, or not in any sort of shelter).  They also recorded environmental conditions such as temperature, wind speed, light, precipitation, and level of insect challenge. 

They found marked differences between the two species' sheltering habits. Horses coped well with gloomy weather, but most donkeys sought shelter in anything more than a light breeze, if it started to rain, or when temperatures dropped below 14 degrees. In contrast, horses tended to move inside at higher temperatures.

Dr Faith Burden, director of research and operational support at The Donkey Sanctuary, and one of the authors of the report commented: "It is interesting to see such a disparity in shelter seeking behaviour between the two species. Of particular relevance to our work at The Donkey Sanctuary, this research validates our long-held belief that donkeys need shelter from inclement weather.”

She added: “What we didn’t necessarily anticipate finding was the horses’ preference to be sheltered from insects in the sunny summer months. With summer and ‘fly season’ just around the corner, it is clear that each species requires shelter at different times and for different reasons.”

Dr Leanne Proops, equine behaviour expert at the University of Portsmouth, said: "Horses are thought to have been domesticated in the temperate regions of Eurasia, while domestic donkeys originated from the African wild ass in semi-arid regions of Northeast Africa. This means that horses tend to be better adapted to the temperate climate of the UK, whereas donkeys are better suited to hotter, drier climates.

“We hope these findings can be used by those who care for either species to better protect them from conditions they’re not suited to.”

For more details, see:

Shelter-seeking behavior of donkeys and horses in a temperate climate
Leanne Proops, Britta Osthaus, Nikki Bell,  Sarah Long, Kristin Hayday, Faith Burden.
Journal of Veterinary Behavior (2019) Vol 32, p 16-23

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