BACKGROUND: The donkey has a reputation for stoicism and its behavioural repertoire in clinical contexts is under-reported. Lack of understanding of the norms of donkey behaviour and how it may vary over time can compromise use of behavioural measures as indicators of pain or emotional state. The objective of this study was to find out whether the behaviour of working donkeys was influenced by gender, the time of day or differed between days with a view to assessing how robust these measures are for inclusion in a working donkey ethogram.
METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: Frequency and consistency of postural and event behaviours were measured in 21 adult working donkeys (12 females; 9 males). Instantaneous (scan) and focal sampling were used to measure maintenance, lying, ingestive and investigative behaviours at hourly intervals for ten sessions on each of two consecutive days. High head carriage and biting were seen more frequently in male donkeys than females (P<0.001). Level head carriage, licking/chewing and head-shaking were observed more frequently in female donkeys (P<0.001). Tail position, ear orientation, foot stamping, rolling/lying and head-shaking behaviours were affected by time of day (P<0.001). However, only two variations in ear orientation were found to be significantly different over the two days of observations (P<0.001). Tail swishing, head shaking, foot stamping, and ears held sideways and downwards were significantly correlated (P<0.001) and are assumed to be behaviours to discourage flies.
CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: All donkeys expressed an extensive behavioural repertoire, although some differences in behaviour were evident between genders. While most behaviours were consistent over time, some behaviours were influenced by time of day. Few behaviours differed between the two test days. The findings can be used to inform the development of a robust, evidence-based ethogram for working donkeys.