Smart Asses: Are Donkeys a Rancher
Ranchers in Belize have long dealt with jaguars the way their northern counterparts once dealt with wolves: They shoot them. Tired of the public relations problem this approach generated, ranch manager Santiago Juan took a different tack three years ago and hired security. “Donkeys,” he says sheepishly. “Since we posted them in our fields, jaguar attacks on our cattle have all but ended.” Donkeys are innately intelligent and curious, with acute hearing and sight. Upon detecting a jaguar, Juan’s four donkeys perk up their ears and trot over to investigate. The jaguar, a top predator that hunts by stealth, often flees. Fewer attacks on the ranch’s 3,000 head of cattle mean fewer dead jaguars, explains Juan, who says he no longer has to reach for a gun to fend off the elusive cats. It’s a win-win situation, say biologists in Belize, who worry that the threatened animals face ever-increasing pressure as development and agriculture usurp their forest homes. Belize remains a stronghold for 600 to 2,000 jaguars, thanks to still-intact jungle, abundant federally protected parks and reserves, and, now, a vigilant group of donkeys.—Dave Sherwood, from Audubon magazine.