Donkey rescue from the brink of Extinction
The rescue story of a donkey would be expected to be a heart renching tale of miss-treatment of some unfortunate beast of burden or seaside performer, especially in Britain where the donkey is also often seen as something of a joke. In many other parts of the World donkeys are hugely important, and until recent times were crucial to the ecomomies of European and American countries, either in their pure form or when hybridised with horses to produce mules.
The most famous breed of donkey is the Baudet-du-Poitou which has been selectively bred in its native France for over a thousand years and is the oldest recorded breed of equine. It comes from the marshy areas of central western France around Marans and Poitiers, in an area called Poitou Charentes, and is well known for its huge size, strength and long shaggy coat; and for producing the Poitevine Mules used by the French Foreign Legion.
In the 1970s after the mechanisation of agriculture it became apparent that the breed was getting rare and a study undertaken by a university student revealed that there were less than 30 pure bred Poitou Donkeys left with only 6 males, and this most distinctive of equines was on the very brink of extinction.
An organisation was set up called La SABAUD ('Save-the-Baudet', the French name for the male Poitou Donkey) with the help of the French Agriculture Ministry, which implemented a careful rescue and breeding programme. The Asinerie Nationale was established to house animals and to reseach reproduction both natural and by artificial insemination.
Today the numbers of Poitou Donkeys have risen very slowly to a few hundred, which is a major triumph; but still makes this animal rarer than the Tiger or the Giant Panda.
With the help of major French breeders, and the two breed societies La SABAUD and L'UPRa, Hamerton Zoo Park has developed an important stud of these fantastic animals, which is now one of the most important outside France.