Endangered Poitou giant donkeys to star at Royal Norfolk Show

Rare Poitou donkeys will be among the animal attractions at this summer's Royal Norfolk Show.

The unusual creatures, which originate from the Poitou region of France, are an endangered species with only about 3,000 left in the world.

Four of the gentle giants – which are recognisable by their huge stature and shaggy coats – will be brought to the show by Kurt Manders, who is one of only a handful of UK owners of the endangered breed at his sanctuary in Colchester.

Although adults can grow up to 15 hands high, the Poitou delegation at the show is expected to include a smaller member – a foal due to be born just two weeks before the event.

Mr Manders competed with his animals at the showground last year and, although there are no donkey classes this year, they proved so popular that he has been invited back as a visitor attraction.

'Their temperament is like no other, they are very calm and docile,' he said. 'They absolutely love human attention and will push you until you stroke them or – as I do – kiss and hug them! I have great pleasure in helping to keep this rare breed alive.'

Mr Manders will also give brief talks at the show about the donkeys, their welfare and their story.

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Mary Wright, livestock co-ordinator at the Royal Norfolk Show, said: 'We are delighted to have Mr Manders back this year with his Poitou donkeys.

'They are so beautiful and unique and were very popular last year – we had to invite him back again this year. The Poitou donkeys are bound to be popular with visitors of all ages.'

Poitou donkeys are on the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy's Conservation Priority List and today it is estimated that there are about 3,000 in the world – up from just 44 donkeys recorded in 1977. In the 1970s, a rescue programme was launched in France to protect the species.

The large donkeys were originally bred in France to be suitable for heavy work on farms. Their numbers declined in the 20th century when fewer animals were needed for agricultural work.

The Royal Norfolk Show takes place on June 27 and 28 at the Norfolk Showground in Costessey. Advance tickets are available online at www.royalnorfolkshow.co.uk.

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