History of the feral donkey in Australia
Donkeys were brought to Australia in the 1860s to be used as pack animals but due to a lack of fencing many escaped. The escapees started breeding and by 1949 the population was so large the WA government declared the donkey a pest. There is now an estimated 5 million feral donkeys in Australia.
Effect on Environment
Feral donkeys have a detrimental effect on the Australian ecosystem, they spread weeds through seeds in their feces and hair, foul watering holes and overeating vegetation.
One of the more disturbing effects the feral donkey has on the Australian flora and fauna is the destruction of watering holes, especially during drought. Donkeys will foul a watering hole and damage the ground around it with their hard hooves ruining the watering hole for other animals and plants. As a result of this native plants and animals that rely on the water can become extinct from the area.
Donkeys can graze for 6-7 hours a day and will eat anything from grass to shrubs to tree bark. The only significant threats to donkey populations are drought and bushfires, as the donkey doesn’t have any natural predators and it is estimated that left unmanaged their population can increase by up to 20% per year, that is up to 1million donkeys a year.
In the wild, feral donkeys form groups usually of one jack (male) and a few Jennie (females) and their offspring or a bachelor group. They will produce 1 foal a year and reach sexual maturity around 2 years of age.
Ways to manage feral donkeys
- trapping or mustering to sell them commercially
- aerial culling (most effective, environmentally friendly and humane)
- on ground culling/hunting (humane and cheap)
- fertility control (very difficult on large numbers – expensive and treatment needs to be repeated to be successful)