A sanctuary is appealing for help in stopping magpies attacking its elderly donkeys, drawing blood and leaving wounds the size of £2 coins.
Volunteers at the Radcliffe Donkey Sanctuary in Lincolshnire noticed Jack, a donkey in his 30s, had unexplained wounds appearing on his back more than a month ago.
Volunteer Ross Clarke told H&H: “He was coming in with some bald patches. At first we thought he’d maybe pulled out too much hair or maybe one of the others in his group had done it – sometimes they might pull a bit of hair out when they’re grooming but we noticed Jack’s patches were about the size of a £2 coin and were starting to bleed.
“We saw some magpies pecking and didn’t realise what they were doing – we thought they were just taking hair for their nests. Jack came in and they’d pecked through his skin and were drawing blood.”
The sanctuary noticed elderly donkeys Martin, Buster and Harry were also being affected.
“We’ve got the donkeys split into different groups and it’s the elderly and less energetic being picked on. They’re laying down in the sun, getting warm and having a sleep and they don’t realise the magpies are on them whereas some of the other donkeys are a bit more feisty and don’t let them get on top of them. The older ones are too relaxed for their own good sometime,” said Ross.
“The others haven’t been as badly affected but with Jack they’d open the wound and concentrate on him. We’ve had them in on the yard but they get fed up and weren’t happy staying in.”
Ross said the sanctuary is concerned about the younger magpies.
“We’re worried because it’s the time magpies start nesting and having babies and if they teach the babies to do it that will be another generation of magpies doing the same thing. We don’t want them teaching their young donkeys are nice food go and eat one of them,” he said.
“With all the problems the donkeys have to deal with, be it the way they’ve been treated in the past, the weather and everything else, you don’t need the magpies to be attacking them too – it’s a nightmare.”
‘Vets first tried to use gentler therapies, such as the application of chemotherapeutic ointments, which unfortunately had no effect.’
The clarification is among a number of rule changes brought in from this season
Take advantage of our sale on Horse & Hound magazine subscriptions today
The sanctuary said Jack is now wearing a summer sheet to protect him but staff are looking for ideas to deter the magpies.
“People have suggested things like shooting them but we’re a sanctuary, we wouldn’t want to hurt them,” said Ross. “We’d rather find a humane way to get rid of them and deter them. We’ve asked people for help on Facebook and had some good ideas but certain things aren’t ideal for equines – a crow scarer will make loud noises but with some of our elderly residents who have come to us after being mistreated in the past, it would scare them half to death.
“We’ve been shooing them off and clapping our hands to try and get rid of them but it’s not ideal. We’re looking for any kind of help or old wives tales – anything that people can think of that can help and will be quiet, not hurt the magpies or hurt our donkeys.”
For all the latest news analysis, competition reports, interviews, features and much more, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, on sale every Thursday.