Poitou, or Baudet du Poitou is a French donkey breed known primarily for their large size and their distinctive coat which, if left ungroomed for long periods of time, will form dreadlocks.
Originally bred in the Poitou region of France, Baudet du Poitou was once highly sought after all over the world, because of its size and strength.
Before the industrial revolution, Poitou donkeys were raised to be used in breeding large mules known as Poitevin, once “regarded as the finest and strongest in France”, and exported to various countries for the development of other donkey and mule breeds.
In the former province of Poitou, donkey breeders would traditionally leave the animals’ coats ungroomed, causing their long locks to form shaggy lumps known as ‘cadenettes’ or dreadlocks. These would sometimes grow so long that they reached the ground.
By the half of the 20th century, mechanization had become so widespread that breeding work mules no longer made financial sense, so many breeders abandoned or killed their animals.
The Poitou was particularly hard-hit by this turn of events, and in 1977 a survey found that there were only 44 specimens left in the entire world.
Thanks to conservation efforts kickstarted by a number of public and private breeders and organizations, the Poitou was brought back for the brink, and today there are hundreds of them living in various countries around the world.
Dr. Giorgia Podico, a veterinarian pursuing specialization in theriogenology, told the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign that the breed is still classified as endangered, as the population currently sits at under 500 worldwide.
Today, Baudet du Poitou donkeys are primarily bred for their beauty and historical importance. The coat that was once treasured for its long dreadlocks is nowadays sheered by breeders for hygienic purposes, but there are still those who let their animals grow their traditional cadenettes.
Apparently, the shaggy coat is such a dominant trait that even a 1/8 Poitou donkey may exhibit it. Researchers have found that it is caused by two recessive mutations in the FGF5 (fibroblast growth factor 5) gene.