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Donkeys DO Have Friends…

23rd May 2013

Companion recognition in donkeys

Social pair-bonding and long-lasting preferences for an individual partner have been observed in a number of different species, but research examining these bonds has largely focused on motivations such as kinship and sexual attraction. The development of ‘friendships’ and close bonds between two individuals of the same species for other reasons has been less frequently examined.

Anecdotal evidence has suggested that donkeys form strong pair bonds with other individual donkeys and will show behavioural signs of distress when separated from their companion.

This study examined the existence of pair bonding in donkeys. Two experiments were performed, the first involving watching 55 donkeys housed in groups and recording each donkeys ‘preferred nearest neighbour‘ over 22 days. Donkeys showing pair-bonding in the first test were then placed in a Y maze and given the option to move towards their ‘preferred nearest neighbour’ or another familiar or unfamiliar donkey.

Over two thirds of the donkeys showed a preference for being close to one other individual donkey and chose to move close to this preferred donkey in the Y maze test. In addition, both members of each pair bond were able to individually recognise their companion and sought to be near them. Disruption of these pair-bonds could have consequences for the welfare of the donkeys and management practices that avoid separating domestic donkeys from their companion are likely to positively influence their welfare.

Murray, L.M.A., Byrne, K. & D’Eath, R.B. (2013) Pair-bonding and companion recognition in domestic donkeys, Equus asinus, Applied Animal Behaviour Science 143: 67–74. Abstract from RSPCA “Science” magazine.

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