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The problem of stolen donkeys - What are possible solutions?


The problem of stolen donkeys comes up at every meeting with donkey owners these days. People are talking of branding, but I argue that this is really only suitable for meat animals, if it can be considered suitable at all. The following points need to be considered:

  1. Thieves would not scruple to 'overbrand', in other words burn or wound the animal so that the brand cannot be identified.
  2. Being long-lived, donkeys can change owners several times.  If the brand is owner-related, this may mean several additional brands.
  3. There is not much room on donkeys for branding, i.e. on the legs as with cattle.
  4. With other animals, branding is related to registration, but there is no such scheme for donkeys, making branding less effective as identification.
  5. More than this, owners are not in all circumstances willing to be identified.  Unsupervised donkeys can do damage to fields and granaries, especially during the night, and if they cause traffic accidents, the law makes owners liable.
To which there are some possible solutions:
  1.  Ear tattooing.  Plenty of room, BUT  1, 4 and 5 above would still apply.  In addition, in some areas there is the practice (to be discouraged at all costs) to cut donkey ears to deal with the ticks.  In addition, fighting jacks (so an argument for castration) can often bite off portions of each other's ears.
  2.  Ear tags, which could also be reflective after the manner being adopted in Namibia to make donkeys safer on the roads at night.  HOWEVER, some of the considerations which apply to tattooing would also apply to these.
  3. Microchipping.  This is being done very effectively by Animals in Distress in Midrand, and is how I first got to know about them.   Some friends rescued some stray donkeys from a busy road, and the next thing Animals in Distress came with their scanner to identify the owner !  Setting up the scheme has a cost, but for each animal the cost is not very high, about R60. The point about microchipping, is that the microchips are almost impossible to cut out because it is impossible to detect where they are. So only by killing the animal ...

‚ÄčSo I am recommending microchipping, once there is a community or welfare organization in place which is capable of keeping the records.

Again, I would appreciate any or all input in this debate where donkeys are concerned.

Answer of the ATS Team:

Branding (hot and freeze) of equidae (in particular horses) is a widespread method to not only mark the animal with the relevant breed association brand, but also to identify the owner. Owner brands are a lifelong identification and not changed if an animal has been sold. Therefore the change of ownership should be registered in the accompanying documents and/or a database (breed association or national database). The owner brand simply indicates the establishment of birth. However, as mentioned by you, the weakness of branding still remains the possibility of "re-branding" through thieves. Additionally, animal welfare concerns are the reason that several European countries have banned or are in the process of banning hot brands (e.g. Germany, Scotland).

The identification and registration of equidae (including donkeys) in the European Union is regulated by the Commission Regulation (EC) No 504/2008 of the European Union, which prescribes RFID transponders (microchips) as the first choice of means of identification. Member states are still able to define alternative means of identification, but in general microchips are now accepted as an animal welfare friendly and tamper proof means of identification for equidae. However, only by implanting microchips it will not be possible to trace an animal back to its' owner. This will only be possible if the owner is registered at the time of identification and any further change of ownership is registered in a database.


This Answer was created by

Ms Sabine Greenslade

AIT Business Architect and AIT Operation Expert

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