Endangered donkeys to be used as ‘firefighters’ in northern Portugal

An innovative project to promote the survival of the endangered ‘burro mirandês’ donkey while also reducing the risk of forest fires has been launched in the north of Portugal.

The idea is simple – the donkeys will be left grazing on scrublands and other forest areas in Trás-os-Montes that have been flagged as fire risk hotspots.

As they chomp their way through potentially flammable undergrowth, risks will be lowered and the donkeys will prove their worth to farmers.

“Most people don’t know how important the ‘burro mirandês’ can be”, Miguel Nóvoa from AEPGA, an association dedicated to studying and protecting donkeys, told Público. “It can remove undergrowth from areas that tractors cannot reach, without damaging the land,” he said.

The project was announced shortly after a study from the University of Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro (UTAD) found that the ‘burro mirandês’ is at such serious risk of extinction that in 50 years time there could be no more left.

“Low reproduction levels” and a belief by livestock farmers that the animals “have little use” are the main issues overshadowing the species’ survival.

UTAD researcher Miguel Quaresma hopes reproduction efforts will be reinforced, saying farmers should be encouraged to use the donkeys by being offered “new, sustainable strategies”.

Until then, AEPGA and UTAD will be working on their firefighting project, due to begin next spring.

Donkeys will be left grazing in northeast areas of the Trás-os-Montes region, along the Sabor river, until the autumn.

Researchers’ plans are to have 10 donkeys grazing for every hectare of land.