Friday, 17 February 2012

Of Wolves and Donkeys

The chief question posed when debating the return of the wolf to Scotland, is how to protect livestock. Since the days of the Highland Clearances,Scotland is a land of large sheep and cattle farms. Economic enough but not lucrative. My neighbours often tell me that only with EU subsidies can they turn a profit. Many farms aren't fenced, and those that are wouldn't keep out a wolf. So, is the prospect of returning the wolf to Scotland total lunacy?

Perhaps there’s another solution to coexisting with wolves that doesn’t involve covering the entire country with eight-foot tall electrified fencing. Ranchers in Minnesota, Montana  where the wolf has made a strong comeback are finding that donkeys provide considerable protection against both wolves and coyotes. Apparently donkeys are more effective at keeping the wolves away than the more traditional method of shooting the wolves on sight.  In care you think this is an April Fool column, here’s the lowdown from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture. Could a strategic addition of donkeys in Scotland safeguard sheep from wolves?

Wolves and Donkeys don’t get along. The enmity between the two species, the canidae and the equidae is legendary. Donkey owners know that they need to keep their dogs away as the donkey will kill them. Not only dogs. The donkey, with its kicking and braying is one of the few domestic animals that can fluster a wolf and send it running. The nasty-tempered donkey has been known to trample many a wolf. Llamas apparently also share the same animosity toward wolves.

What is it about donkeys that instead of hightailing it when wolves appear, they’ll stand their ground and indeed move in to attack? It’s not a lack of intellect; it may be their innate stubbornness. Or a lack of fear. Have you ever tried to fluster a donkey? There’s even a report of farmers in Namibia using donkey to protect their stock from leopards. Wow! Next time I go on a safari, I’m taking a donkey with me for protection.

Donkeys are herbivores. They don’t eat wolves, but nature has endowed them with a good kick, fearlessness and  long ears that give them  acute hearing. They’ll hear a wolf or coyote when it’s far away and respond with loud braying. The wolves evidently respect animals that stand up to it; a donkey’s bray sends them running. Not always though. Wolves have been known to kill young donkeys.

Then there’s the story of the poor wolf and donkey cooped up in the same cage near Tirana, Albania. The pair of them decided that it would best for them to be friends, and so they learned to live together for a while. Fortunately as a result of a petition from various humane societies, the two were set free.

Will it work in Scotland? Donkeys and llamas alone won't totally safeguard a flock, however they are part of the solution. In Colorado where coyotes frequently attack sheep, 99% of farmers use donkeys as guard animals. They also use fencing.

Additional references

The Wolf Army


Video from Switzerland 


  1. Fascinating! It'd be great to be tramping the hills in the knowledge that we're sharing them with wolves.

    1. I've heard coyotes at night. Can only imagine a wolf pack.

  2. Glad for this article. I am in Minnesota and wondering what to do about the wolves on my land. Llamas eat less... Alpacas are good for garden fertilizer and eat 1/2 a bale a day of hay so I am wondering economically, if that is good now that you enlightened me. Donkey may be a good choice too some day.