Kalpitiya donkeys were brought to Sri Lanka by Arab and Dutch traders hundreds of years ago. They are distinct from other donkeys and are the only two known colonies in the country, with an estimated population of around 3000.
They were used to transport salt from Palavi along the narrow stretch leading into the peninsula until the 20th century. They once roamed across the peninsula and were once a common sight.
In recent years, their numbers have dwindled and they can only be found within a 10 to 15 km stretch. This is due to large-scale prawn farming and pollution, as well as the carpeting of roads which has led to speeding vehicles.
This particular species is believed to belong to the same family as the Nubian sub-species of the African Wild Ass. In its native Ethiopia and Sudan, the donkey is now almost extinct, but in Sri Lanka, it has continued to survive. Newcomers to Kalpitiya are often startled by the hideous braying and grunting of the donkeys. For the locals, however, they are a sign that the donkeys are still alive and that some have survived the pot.
Kalpitiya donkeys' living space is shrinking even smaller due to large-scale hotel building, and their grazing land has been cut off due to fencing.