A PLUCKY British woman is trying to save a critically endangered breed of giant French donkey from extinction after their numbers dropped to less than 1,000.

Resembling a cross between Chewbacca the wookiee and a woolly mammoth, the enormous Baudet de Poitou donkeys date back to medieval times when they were bred with horses to produce mules.

Farmer Annie Pollock from Lymington has rescued donkeys from the abbatoir in France, and now has the largest herd of Poitou in the UK.

They grow to more than 8ft tall and breeders have to keep them to a strict diet to stop growing out of control.

Annie, 52, has spent the last nine years building up a herd of 22 Poitou donkeys, which originate from the Poitou-Charentes region of France and are known for their friendly yet mischievous personalities.

She and her small team of farm hands work round the clock to look after them, spending hours grooming their shaggy coats to stop them turning into dreadlocks.

The breed were popular working animals until the mid 20th century when they were replaced with machines.

A survey in 1977 found just 44 surviving donkeys, and there are still less than 1,000 in existence.

Annie, one of only two Poitou breeders in the UK, said: "In 2004 I phoned a lady in France looking to buy a llama, and ended up with two Poitou donkeys which I instantly fell in love with.

"I started looking into the breed and found out they were incredibly rare.

"Gradually I built up the herd, and then started rescuing them.

"I have rescued seven from France which would have otherwise ended up going to the slaughterhouse.

"Word spread I was rescuing them and I have since been approached by a lot of people about taking in their Poitou.

"The breed were to France what shire horses are to Britain and were exported all over the world. The came mechanisation and they fell out of favour.

"There are still less than 1,000 in the stud book and we have 22 of them."

The biggest donkey at Annie's 120-acre Norley Farm is Verveine, dwarfing standard donkeys at a whopping 16 hands – or 5ft 4ins – measured to its shoulders.

Its huge neck and head add several extra feet to its overall height.

The largest in the world lives on a farm in Texas and stands at 17 hands (5ft 7ins).

Annie added: "Verveine is huge and will probably get a bit bigger still. At 16 hands she is quite a bit bigger than people like to ride horses.”