Animal Studies Journal


The entanglement of donkey and human lives is both long and multidimensional, woven with the threads of economic inter-dependence, cultural and religious significance, militarism, friendship, ideas about and programs of conservation, and traditional Chinese medicine turned into a global industry. In this paper, we discuss four eras of entanglement of wild donkeys in Australia. During the first, now past, domesticated donkeys were exploited workers in the colonial project. In the second, present era, most Australian donkeys are unwanted wild animals, declared wildlife pests subject to mass eradication for conservation and livestock production. In the third emerging era donkeys are positioned as potential exploitable commodities in the feverish international trade and trafficking in donkey skins for the industrial production of the traditional Chinese medicine ejiao. In this paper, we look at the present and emerging eras and enquire what a just fourth future era could look like. We consider the extreme violence and cruelty inflicted upon wild donkeys under the guise of both permissive animal welfare legislation and discourses that position them as not simply ‘killable’ but ‘needing to be killed’. We suggest that to fully come to terms with the impediments to building advocacy strategies on behalf of donkeys during this second era, we need to begin by recognising their status as animals without a status: ‘illegible animals’. Finally, we imagine a third era of entanglements, where donkeys might flourish as the new wild megafauna in Australia, as respected workers in a range of valued activities such as land regeneration and fire prevention, and as friends who will nourish the project of continuing to build respectful crossspecies relationships.