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Istrian Donkey: Friend, helper & trademark of Istria

Istrian donkeys (Photo credit: Anton Robić)

by Anton Robić

Stubborn as a donkey – this phrase describes people who are persistent without purpose and reason. Despite this negative comparison, the donkey was once an irreplaceable working assistant to man, including in Istria where we find an indigenous breed – Istrian donkey (istarski tovar).

It is most commonly used to carry loads because this durable animal can carry 120 kilograms of weight, but with the development of mechanization, the Istrian donkey was almost extinct 20 years ago. In order for this breed to survive, the Istrian Donkey Association was founded.

Istrian Donkey Exhibition (Photo credit: Anton Robić)

In 2004, there were only 30 Istrian donkeys in the whole of Istria, and there are 700 today, says Boris Orlić, president of the association. The increase in the number has been made only because of the enthusiasm of the breeders, despite the bureaucracy that makes them more difficult. With the aim of popularizing these animals, the association organizes the Istrian Donkey Exhibition in Juršići near Svetvinčenat, which will be held this year on October 7th.

(Photo credit: Anton Robić)

Cultivation of donkeys, in spite of a different opinion, is neither demanding nor expensive, says Martin Bernaca of Tar, a participant of the show. With hay, they eat almost everything they find, says Martin, who brought two young female donkeys – Luna and Lilly. Their mother died after being hit by a car, so he had to wait for two younger ones to rise to sell donkey milk again.

Martin Bernaca (Photo credit: Anton Robić)

Donkey milk is increasing in price because it is believed to be very useful for the body and the treatment of various diseases. The donkeys give small amounts of milk, so its price rises from 200 kuna per litre upwards. Donkey meat is also very tasty and therefore that animal is reared more frequently today.

(Photo credit: Anton Robić)

However, there is still hope for Istrian donkeys because there is also the interest of young people in their breeding. Among them is the boy Gianmario Terlević from Selina. He loves his donkeys since he was a little kid and he started to worry about them as a 5-year-old. Today I know all about them, and I’m still waiting for the day when my dad will allow me to ride a donkey race, says this competent boy. Along with him, a couple of young boys were very skillful to handle their donkeys on the show.

(Photo credit: Anton Robić)

But some male donkeys are very troubled, like Bepo, which two men had to lead, while the audience was a little scared. Sometimes, they do not want to go any further, like on the race that takes place in Juršići. Some do not want to move while others are rather fast although they can rarely run faster than 50 km per hour. During our visit, the winner was a proud donkey named Tito, who steered forward toward the goal, as if he wanted to overcome the myth of stubborn donkeys.

(Photo credit: Anton Robić)

But they do not all think donkeys are obstinate. Our donkeys are very fond of, say Mario and Rina Pauletić from Ženodraga, the visitors of the exhibition, who are also famous for growing Istrian donkeys and are often awarded at shows. Raising them is no effort for Rina and Mario, so after raising a small family – mum, dad and the little donkey, they plan to have more.

Mario and Rina Pauletić (Photo credit: Anton Robić)

Often with the stubbornness of donkeys are used other misleading metaphors, such as “falling from a horse to a donkey” which describes losers in life. In the story of Buridan’s donkey, this animal dies of starvation, because it can not decide which of two identical hay batches to eat. Still, such comparisons are a bit of a shame, because this sweet animal has always been a friend and helper of man. Everyone hopes they will be again one of the trademarks of Istria.

(Photo credit: Anton Robić)

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