Dr. Rajesh Kumar Yadav*1, Dr. Navav Singh2,Dr. Mahima Dilawar3 and Dr. Archana Fozdar4
The donkey is a wild ass tamed for domestication. The domestic donkey’s progenitor was the African wild ass, according to genetic fingerprinting. About 5000 years ago, the donkey was domesticated for use in trade and transportation in Egypt and Iran. Given their reputation for strength and stamina, donkeys are ideal for employment in both transportation and agriculture. Our “beasts of burden,” donkeys, can travel across terrain that is unreachable by other forms of transportation and can carry burdens far more than their own body weight. Because of their intellect, beauty, and hardiness, donkeys make economical and useful livestock. They can survive in a range of temperatures and conditions because they are resistant to illnesses and parasites and need less food and water than other animals. Given that they can eat low-quality forages, donkeys are undoubtedly less picky (Valle et al., 2017). Donkeys may be trained to do tricks, march in parades, and compete in donkey shows. They have a lengthy lifespan some can live up to 40 years.
Native to the arid and semi-arid regions of India, Indian donkeys, also called Onager donkeys, can be found in the Thar Desert, Kutch, and other areas of Rajasthan. They are renowned for their tenacity and capacity to endure in harsh settings. The donkeys are incredibly resilient and agile. There were dorsal stripes on the back and zebra markings on the legs. Although donkeys can have a variety of coat colors, the most common ones are light and dark gray. They also frequently have shoulder crosses, dark ear markings, white muzzles, eye rings, white bellies, and inner legs. In India, donkeys are divided into three breeds: the Spiti, Halari, and Kachchhi.
The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and its partners have been mapping the population of donkeys in India since January 2020 in order to determine the patterns of their use in both rural and urban groups. Donkeys in India not only carry out draft work for agriculture, but they also provide their owners milk. However, the 2019 Indian livestock census revealed a dramatic fall in the population of donkeys and mules in recent years. There are currently 112,000 donkeys in the nation, down from a peak of 320,000 in 2012.In 1992, there were 9,677,000 donkeys in India. By 2019, that number has dropped by 90% (20th livestock census). Donkey populations have declined by 61% during the 2012 livestock census. In 2019, Rajasthan has over 23,000 donkeys, the most of any state in India. Mostly utilized by nomadic pastoralists in brick kilns to move bricks and in pneumatic wheel carts for rural and urban transportation, donkeys are an essential draught animal in Rajasthan. The purpose of the study was to determine the socioeconomic role that donkey keepers in the area play in their daily lives, as well as the housing, feed, and fodder requirements, health care, and phenotypic characteristics of the local donkeys that are accessible in Rajasthan’s various areas. Rajasthan’s little, light- and dark-gray donkeys are vital to the draught force used in other draught activities and pastoral migration.
Importance of donkey’s farming
Donkeys perform a wide range of working (De Aluja, A. S. 1998) and non-working (Colombo et al., 2020) roles, the latter of which include producing meat and milk as well as being used in the increasingly popular fields of nutraceuticals, cosmetics, tourism, silviculture, and onotherapy. Washer men used to utilize the horse to transport dirty clothes to rivers or ponds and then return the cleaned clothing to their houses. Their milk is said to have therapeutic properties. Agriculture-related draft work and transportation. Donkey milk is a popular and pricey component in beauty products all around the world. Donkey milk has a high lysozyme level, which is thought to be beneficial for gut health. Another application for donkey dung is keeping septic tanks from overflowing by adding the high-microbial content of the dung to the tank. They are good decoy guards against wolves and coyotes and act as the animals’ natural defenders. Demand for donkey milk and skin, as well as the usage of donkeys for amusement and treatment, has increased recently.
They are still used by the Indian Election Commission to transport vote boxes to isolated locations that are inaccessible to cars or other animals. They might also be of great assistance in farms that use drip irrigation to move goods like manure. Other vehicles, such as tractors, may cause damage. Pharmaceutical applications include the use of donkey’s milk in immuno-modulators. Antioxidants, calcium, vitamins C, B, and E, lysozyme, and lactoferrin are all abundant in donkey milk. In comparison to cow’s milk, it also has a greater concentration of omega-fatty acids that reduce inflammation.
Reasons for the continued decrease in the population of donkeys in India
- Decline in traditional uses: Throughout history, donkeys have been employed for labor-intensive jobs like farming and transportation. But as these tasks become more automated, there is less of a need for donkeys, which has resulted in a drop in their number.
- Mechanization: Donkeys are becoming less common in rural areas as a result of the growing usage of automated trolleys for short-distance cargo transportation.
- Lack of protection: In India, donkeys frequently do not receive the same degree of protection as other livestock animals. Their number is declining as a result of the neglect, abuse, and exploitation they frequently endure.
- Loss of habitat: Donkeys’ native habitat is being invaded by India’s growing urbanization and industrialization, which is depriving the animals of adequate places to live.
- Lack of awareness and education: The value of donkeys and the necessity of conserving their number are not widely known in India. Their population decline has been attributed in part to this lack of knowledge and instruction.
- Illegal trade: Which are used to make traditional medicines and beauty products.This illegal trade has further contributed to the decrease in their population.
- Smuggling donkey meat: There is rampant smuggling both in India and abroad. Donkey meat is believed to ease back pain and asthma and increase virility in men.
- Donkey skin trade: Every year, hundreds of thousands of donkeys are killed for their skins. The majority of the donkey skin exports go to China in order to meet the country’s expanding need for “ejiao,” a kind of gelatin used in traditional Chinese medicine. Boiling the skins yields ejiao, which is said to help with anemia and blood circulation issues.
- The ILRI-led project on donkeys and mules in India, which though delayed due to COVID-19-related restrictions had already started work in the six aforementioned states with support from the state animal husbandry and veterinary departments, universities, and other stakeholders.
- The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) said a national policy on equine welfare would help address issues such as the donkey population decline by exploring, among other challenges, how to balance the rapid adoption of mechanization, and maintaining a sufficient number of donkeys.
- National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS) and director general of ICAR, said the welfare of farmers who depend on donkeys for their livelihood should be protected by promoting non-bovine milk and creating awareness of the health benefits of donkey milk. He urged researchers to explore whether donkey milk that can be used for pharmaceutical purposes such as in immuno-modulators. Donkey milk is nutritious and a litter can range anywhere between Indian Rs7,000 to 10,000 . It has fewer calories and less fat and contains more vitamin D than other milk.
- The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and partners have been mapping the India’s donkey and mule population to identify their usage patterns in rural and urban communities. ‘Mapping the issues of Indian donkey and mule population and identify the potential intervention strategies and partnership’ project, which is supported by the Donkey Sanctuary (TDS), UK, has organized stakeholder meetings and household surveys in six Indian states (Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Bihar) that have a sizable donkey and mule population.
- Institutions and Livelihoods program, said that equines, next to cattle and buffalo, play a key role in supporting the livelihoods of many poor, small-scale farmers in India. She called for more research to understand the role that women play in equines production and management. She also called for the engagement of the donkey sector’s stakeholders including farmers in coming up with policies to improve the sector’s performance.
- Special emphasis be given to donkey milk and the development of a cooperative model for the promotion of donkey milk producers.
- A National Donkey Production Program (NDPP) be established for the welfare of donkeys.
- The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) certification be applied to donkey milk.
- An artificial insemination program be started for donkeys with relevant subsidies.
- Indigenous donkeys are given attention to improve breeds, expand the population herd and develop donkey and donkey-products export markets.
- Medicinal and cosmetic properties of donkey milk be fully utilized through economic analysis and appropriate extension.
- Data generated from this project will be used by ILRI and partners to create guidelines for donkey production, management and breeding in India. The research will also strengthen market linkages and value addition in the donkey sector.
Constraints in donkey farming
1. Donkey farms are little and not yet very well structured in India.
2. Insufficient milk production.
3. Because there is no law pertaining to food products, donkey milk is not becoming more and more popular among consumers.
4. Social taboo
5. The landless farmer is now unaware of the advantages and financial worth of donkey milk.
6. Donkeys are mostly employed as pack animals to haul only heavy objects.
Overall, the population of donkeys in India has continued to decline due to a number of issues, including shifting agricultural methods, a lack of protection, habitat degradation, a lack of knowledge, and the illegal trade. To reverse this trend, actions to address these problems and increase public understanding of the value of donkey protection are imperative.