“They’re very stubborn, donkeys. You know, they’re famous for that. They’re smarter than horses. You can’t really convince them to do something they don’t want to do,” said veterinarian and Ph.D. student Dr. Giorgia Podico.
These animals’ appearance and personality will remind you of “Donkey” in the movie Shrek.
These donkeys are called Baudet du Poitou and were bred in the Poitou region of France sometime in the Middle Ages. It was the Romans who must have brought them to France centuries ago.
Their breed arrived in the US sometime between the 19th and 20th centuries, but interbreeding made these donkeys lose many of their unique traits.
Nevertheless, they still look different from ordinary donkeys with their bulky bodies and round bellies, thick fur, and enormous ears that keep swinging back and forth.
Unique as they are, Baudet du Poitou are now an endangered species with only 44 left by the mid-1970s. Thanks to conservation efforts, however, they now number between 300 and 400.
But it is still a small figure, making their species still under threat of extinction.
How are these endangered donkeys being saved?
Artificial insemination is one of the latest efforts, with its first success story in 2020. And amazingly, the jennies are being inseminated with 25-year-old semen from a jack named Saadi Du Bourg, who is now gone. The semen samples were kept in a freezer at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine.
But artificial insemination only has a 1 in 5 chance of becoming successful, because it induces inflammatory reactions. The process has to be repeated until the jennies are pregnant.
The pregnancy also has to be closely monitored, because the first successful case encountered some serious problems, like premature birth. Intensive care saved the offspring, which the veterinarians almost lost to sepsis. But their efforts did not end in vain.
Podico, who is involved in the breeding program of three female Baudet du Poitou at the University of Illinois, is hopeful that this technology, despite the huge odds, will help save these endangered donkeys.
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