Since its domestication, about 5000 years ago, the donkey (Equus asinus) has been extensively used as a work or draft animal in agricultural activities and for the transportation of people and goods. In the last century, technology improvement and growing mechanization strongly affected agriculture and the management and use of this livestock species in the industrialized countries. Nowadays, the use of donkeys for work or transport has almost disappeared, together with the need for mules or hinny breeding. During the last five decades, Italian autochthonous donkey populations suffered from a severe reduction in population size, which led to the extinction of several breeds. At present, eight breeds remain, all classified by FAO as critically endangered or endangered: Asinara, Pantesco, Grigio Siciliano, Romagnolo, Amiatino, Sardo Grigio, Martina Franca, and Ragusano. To evaluate the extant genetic variability of Italian donkeys, we typed 16 microsatellite loci in 258 individuals from these breeds. The results highlighted moderate levels of inbreeding ( F (IS) = 0.127) and a significant partition of genetic variation into breeds, as suggested by fixation index ( F (ST) = 0.109) and analysis of molecular variance (10.86% of total variation assigned to the between-breeds level) analyses. This was confirmed by a Bayesian clustering procedure that also highlighted a further partitioning at lower hierarchical levels corresponding to the farms of origin. This evidence suggests that an effective management strategy for Italian donkey populations should focus on breeds as conservation units. However, this requires a synergic management strategy at the farm level to maintain diversity and avoid inbreeding.