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How did donkeys become domesticated?

238 modern and ancient donkey genomes were evaluated for the new study.

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Donkey standing in field, Dischma Valley, Davos, Graubuenden, Grisons, Switzerland
(Altrendo Images via Shutterstock)

By Stephen Beech via SWNS

Donkeys were first domesticated more than 7,000 years ago in Africa, according to new research.

A major genetic analysis of modern and ancient donkeys revealed the origins, expansion and management practices underlying the pack animal’s domestication over thousands of years.

Scientists who conducted the research say that understanding the animal’s largely overlooked genetic history is not only important in assessing their contribution to human history but could also improve their local management in the future.

Domestic donkeys (Equus asinus) have been important to humans for thousands of years, providing a source of animal labor and long-distance transport for many cultures.

However, despite their importance to ancient societies across Africa, Europe and Asia, little is known about their long history with humans, particularly regarding their origin, domestication and the impact of human management on their genomes.

A donkey grazing on the pasture at daytime
(Oakland Images via Shutterstock)

Researchers from the Centre for Anthropobiology and Genomics of Toulouse (CAGT) in France evaluated 238 modern and ancient donkey genomes for the new study, discovering fresh insights into their domestication history.

They found strong evidence supporting a single domestication event in eastern Africa more than 7,000 years ago.

Close up of a donkey walking on the soft sand of the southern Oregon coast as the sun sets adding a splash of light to the clouds and Cape Sebastian at the distance
(Nature's Charm via Shutterstock)

Study co-author Doctor Ludovic Orlando, of CAGT, said: "This was followed by a series of expansions throughout Africa and into Eurasia where subpopulations eventually became isolated and differentiated, perhaps due to the aridification of the Sahara.

"Eventually, genetic streams from Europe and the Near East found their way back into western African donkey populations."

He added: "The analysis also uncovered a new genetic lineage from the Levant region that existed roughly 2,200 years ago and contributed to increasing gene flow toward Asian donkey populations."

He said the findings, published in the journal Science, also revealed insights into donkey management, including breeding and husbandry.

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