Donkeys don't like rain and seek shelter when it's cold, study finds

Not everyone enjoys the British weather and it seems donkeys are no exception.

A study has found that, while horses can cope with the cold and rain, their smaller relatives actually run for cover during a downpour and when temperatures drop below 14C.

The research was carried out by equine behaviour expert Dr Leanne Proops, at the University of Portsmouth and the findings are published in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour.

Dr Proops said: "We found that donkeys were much more likely than horses to seek shelter when it's windy, rainy or cold. This makes a lot of sense when you consider the evolutionary history of each species.

"Horses are thought to have been domesticated in the temperate regions of Eurasia, while domestic donkeys originated from the African wild ass in semi-arid regions of Northeast Africa.

"This means that horses tend to be better adapted to the temperate climate of the UK, whereas donkeys are better suited to hotter, drier climates.

"We hope these findings can be used by those who care for either species to better protect them from conditions they're not suited to."

The team studied 208 healthy, semi free-ranging donkeys and horses, over a 16 month period in Somerset and Devon.

They looked at various criteria, including temperature, wind speed, rainfall and the level of harassment from flies, to assess which factors prompted the animals to look for shelter.

Overall, unless it was dry and hot, donkeys spent less time outdoors than horses and when it rained, they were three times more likely to stay indoors.

They also reacted very differently to wind, with a moderate breeze sending 61% of donkeys inside, compared to only 5% of horses opting to seek shelter.

The study found that when it came to pesky flies, horses trotted inside, but donkeys stayed outside.

Dr Faith Burden, director of research and operational support at The Donkey Sanctuary which funded the research, said: "It is interesting to see such a disparity in shelter seeking behaviour between the two species.

"Of particular relevance to our work, this research validates our long-held belief that donkeys need shelter from inclement weather."