Tropical Animal Health and Production

, Volume 37, Supplement 1, pp 1–19 | Cite as

A Review of the Factors Affecting the Survival of Donkeys in Semi-arid Regions of Sub-Saharan Africa



The large fluctuations seen in cattle populations during periods of drought in sub-Saharan Africa are not evident in the donkey population. Donkeys appear to have a survival advantage over cattle that is increasingly recognized by smallholder farmers in their selection of working animals. The donkey's survival advantages arise from both socioeconomic and biological factors. Socioeconomic factors include the maintenance of a low sustainable population of donkeys owing to their single-purpose role and their low social status. Also, because donkeys are not usually used as a meat animal and can provide a regular income as a working animal, they are not slaughtered in response to drought, as are cattle. Donkeys have a range of physiological and behavioural adaptations that individually provide small survival advantages over cattle but collectively may make a large difference to whether or not they survive drought. Donkeys have lower maintenance costs as a result of their size and spend less energy while foraging for food; lower energy costs result in a lower dry matter intake (DMI) requirement. In donkeys, low-quality diets are digested almost as efficiently as in ruminants and, because of a highly selective feeding strategy, the quality of diet obtained by donkeys in a given pasture is higher than that obtained by cattle. Lower energy costs of walking, longer foraging times per day and ability to tolerate thirst may allow donkeys to access more remote, under-utilized sources of forage that are inaccessible to cattle on rangeland. As donkeys become a more popular choice of working animal for farmers, specific management practices need to be devised that allow donkeys to fully maximize their natural survival advantages.


adaptation Africa donkey drought survival strategies 



acid detergent fibre


crude protein


Department for International Development


dry matter


dry matter digestibility


dry matter intake


metabolic live weight


live weight


mean retention time


neutral detergent fibre


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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Agriculture and ForestryUniversity of AberdeenAberdeenScotland, UK
  2. 2.Centre for Tropical Veterinary MedicineMidlothianScotland

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