Donkeys becoming extinct in Yemen [Archives:2008/1144/Last Page]

April 7 2008

Almigdad Mojalli
[email protected]

Donkeys in Yemen are threatened with extinction, due to breeding practices and zoo protocol.

“Indeed, donkeys are in real danger. They decrease day after day. People castrate them, preventing them from reproducing,” said Hussein Al-Shawtari, a donkey seller who follows the national donkey market.

“Additionally, people working in the zoo slaughter them and offer them to the zoo's lions as food,” he added.

The donkey, or Equus Asinus, likely came to Yemen from Egypt, where the species is thought to have originated with the Nubian wild ass. There is evidence that donkeys have existed for around 6,000 years in the Middle East, and were domesticated around the same time as horses and camels.

The workers in Sana'a Zoo used to slaughter seven to nine donkeys every day, offering them to lions and tigers in the zoo. However, the zoo said that they have stopped this practice in order keep the species alive in Yemen.

“We used to buy very old, ailing and sick donkeys at YR 1,500 to 2,000 each, avoiding the healthy ones. However, it wasn't easy for us to find seven ailing or very old donkeys every day. At the same time, it wasn't possible for us to buy seven healthy donkeys at YR 40,000 each,” said Dr. Ameen Obad, the veterinarian in charge of health care for the zoo.

“In order not to use all the donkeys, we thought of other alternatives,” said Obad. “We decided to buy old and ailing goats, cows and even fish and chickens, since they are available in larger quantities and cheaper than donkeys.”

Donkeys have traditionally been one of the main means of transportation in Yemen for centuries, especially in agricultural and mountainous areas. “Donkeys are very important for people in rural areas. They are as important as cars and sometimes they are more important than cars,” said Ahmed Al-Garah, a rural resident of Bani Hushaish district. “We use them to transport us and our goods, especially in mountains where there are no car roads,” he went on to say.

Donkeys are also used as an agricultural tool to help plough or carry equipment. “In rural areas, if you don't have a donkey, you aren't a farmer. Without donkeys, we can't do things – and people aren't ready to lend you theirs everyday,” said Mohammed Al-Matari, a farmer in Bani Matar district.

The recent nationwide price hikes have also affected the donkey market. “The price for donkeys was raised unreasonably, particularly for the young ones. The value of some donkeys is up to YR 80,000,” said Al-Shawtari.

He added that donkeys coming from some northern governorates are preferred over others.

“People don't buy just any donkey. They prefer the donkeys coming from the suburbs of Sana'a and some from Amran, because their owners train them to plough and carry things, while those from Abyan and Hadramout aren't in demand because they can't plough or carry things and are difficult to control,” Al-Shawtari explained.

The age and the health of donkeys are very important factors in the buying process. “We know the age of the donkeys by checking their teeth. If all the teeth are still fine and bright, this means that [the donkey] is still young and able to work well,” said Al-Shawtari.

A donkey's life span is 25 to 40 years, and they are able to work for the majority of their lives if properly cared for. Both male and female donkeys can pull about 25 percent of their body weight for seven hours a day and need only small amounts of water to sustain themselves.

A Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation report from 2002- the most recent date for which information was available -stated that there was very little information available on the number of donkeys in Yemen. However, the report warned that the country's donkey population was rapidly decreasing and in danger of extinction.

As the donkey market becomes sparse and the cost of work animals is on the rise, zoo workers continue to look for other food sources to offer the wild animals. However, castrating and offering up donkeys as food for other beasts is still in practice and is harming the species' survival.