Since 2003, the large and docile Miranda donkey, named after the area where it lives, Tierra de Miranda, has been listed as an endangered breed. The Miranda, which has white markings around its eyes and a thick coat that it sheds as it grows old, has steadily been displaced by the tractor and other modern farming equipment.
Even in Northern Europe, where donkeys serve more often as pets, they are misunderstood, Ms. Kugler said. They are often kept in meadows, where the grass is ill suited to their digestion, and the soft soil is bad for their hooves, which are designed to withstand rocky ground.
“Modern society has completely forgotten what made the donkey unique in the first place, which is that it originates from the desert and is used to difficult ground and having little fodder,” Ms. Kugler said.
Those attributes make the Miranda donkey especially well suited to Portugal’s highlands. Farmers here speak Mirandese — an officially recognized language in Portugal — and the region sometimes appears frozen in time. One older woman, dressed in a widow’s traditional black, explained that she still used her donkey because her family could not read or write and had never applied for driver’s licenses.
Luis Sebastião, a 22-year-old military police officer, said he regularly made the eight-hour bus trip from Lisbon, where he is stationed, to spend weekends in his native highlands, where he hopes to retire.
“I’m very lucky to have a job in Lisbon, but where am I going to have a better life once that work stops?” he asked. “This is where I really feel at home, alongside the donkeys and everything else that makes this place so special.”
Perhaps we should all just stop what we are doing and go raise Miranda Donkeys!