When I return from my day’s teaching in a British school in the Costa Blanca, most days it is a very similar routine. The donkeys see my car arriving. Morris lets out a great and glorious braying to show he is the male on sentry duty and only he has noticed me arriving. The girls all saw me arrive anyway, but they don’t make a fuss about it: they just make their way across the field and line up for feeding time.
I cast off my formal shirt and tie, put on my blue Spanish worker’s overalls, and go down to the field to greet the donkeys. It is a seamless transition from poorly paid professional to unpaid peasant. I feed and water the lovely donkeys, clean up their daily doos, and attend to the practical needs of the field, repairing fence damage and looking for hazards that may harm the animals. They get their supper straight away, but it is only after the evening chores to serve them that I can get mine!
Usually, when I go down to the field, the donkeys are standing in a line at the edge of the cisterna, waiting in anticipation for their supper. Tonight was not like that. The donkeys had picked up on some primitive scent or sound. There was a threat to the herd: the presence of a javali, a wild boar nearby. The observation of donkey behaviour is one of the great pleasures of my life, neatly complementing my rapid loss of interest in human behaviour.
The great learning point for me is the way that Rubí and Matilde, the two mothers, are still protecting their young: Morris and Aitana are two and a half years old now. While Morris is the strongest of the four donkeys, the mothers are much more alert to danger and they guard him and Aitana. The aggressive snorting of Rubí and Matilde directed at the external threat was not recorded, unfortunately: I missed the short outbursts each time I tried to capture this on video. The two mothers made very aggressive snorting noises on three or four occasions.
No wild boar was sighted but there was certainly one nearby. The only time I have seen similar behaviour from the donkeys, a year ago, a wild boar ran down the road next to the field shortly afterwards. I shall not go back out again tonight: the donkeys have given me fair warning.