Our complex and contradictory relationships with animals is demonstrated in our relationships with donkeys Equus asinus. The Australian context exemplifies these conflicting attitudes: once exploited as a beast of burden in the Outback in colonial times, the donkey has since been constructed as a pest to farmers, a feral animal that does not belong, and vermin to be exterminated. The latest incarnation is interesting as the donkey is once again proving ‘valuable’ as the guardian animal of choice for some farmers and pastoralists seeking to protect their flocks from wild dogs Canis lupus familiaris.
There is an interesting inter-relationship between the domestic animals in this context: the sheep Ovis aries (valuable to humans), the wild animals: the dogs, (valued as the usual favoured companion but in this context, as a pest to be destroyed) and the donkeys (valuable again in their guardian role rather than a feral pest to be shot). To add to the irony of this situation, some of the donkeys employed in this way are feral donkeys, which blurs the lines even further. What are the deciding factors in the status we assign to animals? I contend that utilitarian economic considerations outweigh any other.