The Catalonian donkey breed belongs to Equus asinus somaliensis ancestral trunk, or Somalian donkey, that originated donkeys breeds from south-western Asia, and probably to most of European breeds, too. The Catalan donkey is known since olden days through bibliographic references. Some Roman texts from Varron and Pliny the Elder suggest its existence and commercialisation. During the Roman period, the tribe that inhabited the “Plana de Vic” zone (Osona, Barcelona), an important breeding area of Catalan donkey, was known with the name “Ausetana”. Even at the present time, the breed is known as “Raza Ausetana” in some countries such as Argentina. However, the toponym “Catalana” does not appear in any written document until the year 938 (“Archivos de la Corona de Aragón”).
The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) almost provoked the extinction of the Catalonian donkey breed. Paradoxically, the following decade (1940-1950) was the most brilliant period for the breed, because the post-war period provoked the return to more traditional productive farming systems. The crisis of prices of the equine sector in subsequent years, agricultural mechanisation and rural exodus in Spain during the 60s and 70s caused another severe decline of the breed. The year 1978 was the turning point for the breed. That year was created the AFRAC –“Associació del Foment de la Raça Asinina Catalana” (Catalonian Donkey Breed Promoting Association)–, and the HerdBook was opened again (the original one was opened in 1929), with only 8 females and 2 males registered. At the present time, the AFRAC is the collaborating organisation that manages the Genealogical Book, which was created and regulated in 2002 –DOGC nº. 3608, on April, 4th– (DOGC: “Diari Oficial de la Generalitat de Catalunya”).
The origin and expansion areas of Catalan Donkey were around basins of the Segre, the Ter and the Cardener rivers, and afterwards, the population spread towards other Catalan regions. In the middle of the XX century, Dr. Romagosa (PhD. Thesis, 1959) made a distinction among five breeding areas in Catalonia: Plana de Vic; Garrotxa and Ripollès; Berguedà, Solsonès and Segarra; Plana d’Urgell; Segrià and Ribera del Cinca. Since then, present geographical distribution has changed, because, logically, reasons and motivations for raising and owning these animals have changed as well.
Nowadays, there are 336 living individuals, which belong to 52 breeders, registered in the Genealogical Book (one third are males) and controlled by the AFRAC. Most of them (72%) are located in Catalonia and distributed among different regions, but mainly in Girona (Pla de l’Estany and Garrotxa, 17%) and Barcelona (Berguedà; 32% of the census is situated in “Fuives de Olván” farm that belongs to Mr. Joan Gassó). The rest of donkeys (28%) are distributed as follows: 6% in Conflent and Vallespir regions (France), 10% in the Military Herd of Ecija (Sevilla), 7% in Huesca province, and 5% in a farm from Toledo province. However, present census size can be estimated in about 500 individuals.