Saturday, January 9, 2010

Donkeys in the snow

With a thick blanket of snow covering the slopes for the last two days, my donkeys Moshé (right, with a beige head) and Mandrin (left, with a gray head) were no doubt starting to get a bit hungry. But they're perfectly capable of scraping away the snow with their hoofs and then burrowing in with their snouts to find good green grass.

They nevertheless appreciate a bit of hay. Here, they're standing with their hind legs on a sloped embankment, which distorts the shape of their bodies. Seen from behind, they're both about twice as fat as any self-respecting donkey should be... so, I'm not really worried about the possibility of their being undernourished because of the snow.

They're Provençal donkeys, which were used by shepherds during the seasonal migration of their sheep to summer pastures up on the slopes. Judging from their hairy mammoth look, I reckon that the ancestors of these delightful beasts knew a thing or two about wintry conditions.

In this photo, you can make out the dark cross on Moshé's back. When I purchased my six-months-old friend in 1994, the farmer who had bred him told me that my donkey was marked with this cross because he belonged to the same race as the animal that had carried Jesus into the Holy City on Palm Sunday. It's the donkey equivalent—you might say—of the stigmata. So, to respect the noble religious ancestry of my baby beast, I named him Moshé (Hebrew for Moses). Since then, I've discovered that all Provençal donkeys have a dark cross on their back. They form a vast ecclesiastic order, like the White Monks. But I don't know whether all these blessed donkeys have remained pious believers.


  1. The may not be pious believers - but they are at least as smart as the average pious believer. Don't they get cold at all? Shouldn't you knit them jackets?

  2. Donkeys are wonderful beasts. Contrary to the common belief about their being silly asses (term used to designate foolish humans), donkeys are exceptionally intelligent creatures, with cunning personalities and a kind of dry sense of humor. If a donkey escapes from his normal territory, he'll often spend an hour or so parading around, constantly just out of your reach, with the sole aim of demonstrating that he's smarter than the person who's trying to coax him back into his paddock. (I'm talking of donkeys who've been brought up with a sense of liberty.) Then, as soon as he feels that the demonstration is successfully concluded, he'll stroll back calmly on his own. As with all domestic animals, an owner ends up forming a fairly good idea of what his donkey is thinking and feeling at any particular moment. I don't believe that mine are cold at present, just as they never seem to be concerned about getting wet in the rain. On the other hand, they never have a clear stereoscopic vision of what lies directly in front of them, and they have a permanent problem detecting grades of color. Consequently, the phenomenon of a thick blanket of snow on the slopes tends to disturb them. They hesitate before advancing, and end up slipping and sliding a lot. If Sophia's natural element is undoubtedly snow, that of a donkey is rather a patch of dry dusty earth, to roll on. In donkey language, this is referred to as their "bath". Have you heard of the world's most renowned donkey specialist, who has been a consultant for various nations in Africa who are faced with the challenge of reintroducing donkeys for economic reasons? An English lady of Scandinavian origins named Elisabeth Svendsen, founder of The Donkey Sanctuary at Sidmouth in Devon. Besides developing a rich context of veterinary techniques for treating donkeys, Elisabeth Svendsen also pioneered the therapeutic role of donkeys in both pediatric and geriatric situations. A remarkable lady, who developed a passion for remarkable beasts.