“Why do you love donkeys?” I am often asked this question in a tone of voice that suggests my sanity is being weighed up.
I have had donkeys since I was 18 years old, when I fell in love with a jenny at the Adelaide Zoo. She was destined for the lion’s cage — destined to be drawn and quartered — a fate I couldn’t countenance. I bought her and got two for the price of one. Six months later her son Christo arrived, wrapped in his birth-sac like a neat plastic-wrapped sculpture by his artistic namesake.
The incest taboo didn’t seem to apply in the donkey world and after a few years my little herd had increased to six.
Donkeys’ reputation for stubbornness can come only from generations of people who have tried to beat them into submission and compliance. They are not stubborn; they are smart. Horses are compliant. Bred to be obedient to the point where they will charge into battle or undertake dangerous jumps, risking horrible injury and death, to please their masters.
Donkeys are much cannier and smarter. They need to be convinced that what they are being asked to do won’t hurt them and will be worth their while. This has resulted in me demonstrating how to go through gates, over bridges, across roads and so on. Sometimes it’s taken a few attempts and once, I had to get down on all fours to show them how to cross a skinny, slightly wobbly bridge.
Once convinced that what they are doing is worthy of their efforts, they are the most loyal, patient and hardworking creatures, as Simpson found when he had to rely on his sure-footed mate at Gallipoli.
Over the years I have had the pleasure of owning 10 donkeys, all with highly individual personalities. I now share my small farmlet with Morag the highland cow and her donkey friends Gordon and Gregory. Gordon has a fine voice — loud, resonant and deeply discordant as only a donkey’s bray can be. He is a creature of the night and he loves the moon. His frequently nocturnal singing follows the lunar cycle. The waxing moon clearly excites him and by the time the full moon rises, Gordon’s vocal chords have been exercised and are in full volume and vibrato. It may not be Rusalka but the experience is memorable.
But he doesn’t restrict himself just to the dark hours. A rooster down the road crows at 5.14am, followed by a family of kookaburras, then Gordon joins in and, finally, to complete the rural symphony, the geese across the road add their chorus. By 5.30am no one within a kilometre radius is asleep — no need for alarm clocks.
How can you not love a donkey?
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