Health trend

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By AGENCE FRANCEPRESSE in Gradina Martinicka, Mon­tene­gro

Milk of Mon­tene­gro’s shunned don­keys is win­ning new fans

Ma­chines long ago usurped a don­key’s tra­di­tional role as the farmer’s beast of bur­den, but the an­i­mals are win­ning new fans in Mon­tene­gro — thanks to their lux­ury milk.

It comes at a trickle and sell­ing at a hefty 50 euros ($54) per liter it could pro­vide a life­line for the Balkan don­key breed, whose num­bers have sharply de­clined.

But it is the prod­uct’s ther­a­peu­tic po­ten­tial that makes it stand out, ac­cord­ing to pro­duc­ers and buy­ers.

“This milk is ex­tremely healthy for skin dis­ease and other dis­eases,” said Darko Saveljic as he squeezed an inch of the white stuff from Tereza, one of 30 don­keys at his sanc­tu­ary in the cen­tral Mon­tene­grin coun­try­side.

Even small daily amounts can help tackle asthma and bron­chi­tis, he said.

The an­i­mals are first milked just two to three months af­ter giv­ing birth and pro­duce only 400 milliliters a day, a frac­tion of what a cow can pro­vide.

“Don’t ex­pect a lot of milk,” warned Saveljic, who gives away half his yield to those he thinks will ben­e­fit but can­not af­ford it.

The prod­uct’s price tag is sig­nif­i­cant in Mon­tene­gro, home to 620,000 peo­ple and an av­er­age monthly wage of about 500 euros.

About half an hour away in the cap­i­tal Pod­gor­ica, Va­le­ria Markovic con­tacted the farm af­ter search­ing on­line for a cure for her 5-year-old son Vla-do, whose al­ler­gies were mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for him to breathe at night.

“I’d only read that Cleopa­tra bathed in don­key milk,” said Markovic, an econ­o­mist, laugh­ing about her dis­cov­ery. “I didn’t have any idea about it.”

Af­ter drinking a small amount each day, Vlado’s symp­toms be­came “milder than they were be­fore”.

Pho­tis Pa­pade­mas, a dairy science ex­pert and as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at Cyprus University of Tech­nol­ogy, said there are strong in­di­ca­tions that don­key milk is ef­fec­tive against dis­or­ders re­sult­ing from a poor im­mune sys­tem but clin­i­cal stud­ies are needed.

“The proof is not very strong yet, but there are very good in­di­ca­tions,” he told AFP. “You have to be very cau­tious when con­nect­ing health and food.”

Don­key prod­ucts are also pro­moted in Ser­bia, where the Zasav­ica Na­ture Re­serve claims to sell the world’s most ex­pen­sive cheese — made from don­key milk— for 6,000 di­nars (48 euros) per 50 grams.

Mon­tene­gro’s last agri­cul­tural cen­sus in 2010 put the don­key pop­u­la­tion at around 500, al­though Saveljic es­ti­mates there are now only 150, and this year the an­i­mal was in­cluded in a na­tional con­ser­va­tion pro­gram for in­dige­nous breeds.

An or­nithol­o­gist by train­ing, he set up the farm over a year ago to pre­serve the moun­tain­ous coun­try’s don­keys, alarmed by dwin­dling num­bers of the in­dige­nous and do­mes­ti­cated Balkan breed.

The en­trance fee to the sanc­tu­ary is one kilo of ap­ples or car­rots, and Saveljic hopes that wel­com­ing vis­i­tors each week­end will raise aware­ness.

He also in­vites fam­i­lies with autis­tic chil­dren to visit for free, say­ing par­ents re­port pos­i­tive be­hav­ioral changes af­ter they in­ter­act with the an­i­mals.

“If you work with don­keys well, don­keys are like dogs. They re­spect you, they are re­ally ready to go with you ev­ery­where,” Saveljic said.

SAVO PRELEVIC / AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Darko Savelji milks one of the 30 don­keys on his sanc­tu­ary.

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