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Donkey (Equus asinus) - Wiki
Subject: Donkey (Equus asinus) - Wiki
Donkey (Equus asinus).jpg
Resolution: 1803x1212 File Size: 513609 Bytes Date: 2005:01:16 11:52:46 Camera: DMC-FZ3 (Panasonic) F number: f/2.8 Exposure: 10/600 sec Focal Length: 145/10 Upload Date: 2007:10:17 23:38:43

Donkey (Equus asinus) - Wiki

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[Photo] Donkey (Equus asinus). Taken at Disney's Animal Kingdom by Raul654 ( on January 16, 2005.
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The donkey or ass, Equus asinus, is a domesticated animal of the horse family, Equidae.


Most wild donkeys are between 1 and 1.60 m in length. Domestic donkeys stand from 0.9 to over 1.40 m tall. The Andalucian-Cordobesan breed of southern Spain can reach up to 1.60 m high. Donkeys are adapted to marginal desert lands, and have many traits that are unique to the species as a result. They need less food than horses. Overfed donkeys can suffer from a disease called laminitis. Unlike horse fur, donkey fur is not waterproof, and so they must have shelter when it rains. Wild donkeys live separated from each other, unlike tight wild horse herds. Donkeys have developed very loud voices, which can be heard for over three kilometers, to keep in contact with other donkeys of their herd over the wide spaces of the desert. Donkeys have larger ears than horses to hear the distant calls of fellow donkeys, and to help cool the donkey's blood. Donkeys' tough digestive system can break down near-inedible vegetation and extract moisture from food more efficiently. Donkeys can defend themselves with a powerful kick of their hind legs.

Etymology of the name

The word donkey is an etymologically obscure word. The first written attestation of it dates to circa 1785. Until recent times, the synonym ass was often used to refer to Equus asinus (e.g., as in jackass, "male donkey"); ass has clear cognates in most other Indo-European languages. However, its homonymity with the vulgar term ass for "buttocks" probably influenced its gradual replacement by donkey in the sense of Equus asinus. No credible cognate for donkey has yet been identified. Hypotheses on its derivation include the following:

* Perhaps a diminutive of dun (dull grayish-brown), a typical donkey colour.
* Perhaps from the name Duncan.
* Perhaps of imitative origin.


The ancestors of the modern donkey are the Nubian (a medium sized donkey with a grey and white coat, stripes on back and legs and a tall, upright mane with a black tip) and Somalian subspecies of African wild ass. The African Wild Ass was domesticated around 4,000 B.C. The donkey became an important pack animal for people living in the Egyptian and Nubian regions as they can easily carry 20% to 30% of their own body weight and can also be used as a farming and dairy animal. By 1800 B.C., the ass had reached the Middle East where the trading city of Damascus was referred to as the “City of Asses” in cuneiform texts. Syria produced at least three breeds of donkeys, including a saddle breed with a graceful, easy gait. These were favored by women.

For the Greeks, the donkey was associated with the Syrian god of wine, Dionysus. The Disney film Fantasia (1940) features a Dionysian character on a donkey. The Romans also valued the ass and would use it as a sacrificial animal.

In 1495, the ass first appeared in the New World. The four males and two females brought by Christopher Columbus gave birth to the mules which the Conquistadors rode as they explored the Americas. Shortly after America won her independence, President George Washington imported the first mammoth jackstock into the country. Because the Jack donkeys in the New World lacked the size and strength he required to produce quality work mules, he imported donkeys from Spain and France, some standing over 1.63 m tall. One of the donkeys Washington received from the Marquis de Lafayette named "Knight of Malta" stood only 1.43 m and was regarded as a great disappointment. Viewing this donkey as unfit for producing mules, Washington instead bred Knight of Malta to his Jennets and, in doing so, created an American line of Mammoth Jackstock.

Despite these early appearances of donkeys in America, the donkey did not find widespread favor in America until the miners and gold prospectors of the 1800s. Miners preferred this animal due to its ability to carry tools, supplies, and ore. Their sociable disposition and fondness for human companionship allowed the miners to lead their donkeys without ropes. They simply followed behind their master. With the introduction of the steam train, these donkeys lost their jobs and many were turned loose into the American deserts. Descendants of these donkeys can still be seen roaming the Southwest in herds to this day.

By the early 20th century, donkeys began to be kept as pets in the United States and other wealthier nations, while remaining an important work animal in many poorer nations. The donkey as a pet is best portrayed by the appearance of the miniature donkey in 1929. Robert Green imported miniature donkeys to the United States and was a lifetime advocate of the breed. Mr. Green is perhaps best quoted when he said "Miniature Donkeys possess the affectionate nature of a Newfoundland, the resignation of a cow, the durability of a mule, the courage of a tiger, and the intellectual capability only slightly inferior to man's." Standing only 32-40 inches, many families recognized the potential of miniature donkeys as pets and companions for their children.

Although the donkey fell from public notice and became viewed as a comical, stubborn beast which was considered “cute” at best, the donkey has recently regained some popularity in North America as a mount, for pulling wagons, and even as a guard animal. Some standard species are ideal for guarding herds of sheep against predators since most donkeys have a natural aversion to canines and will keep them away from the herd.


Types of donkeys

Domestic donkey breeds

An incomplete list of domestic donkey breeds includes the:

* Mammoth Donkey
* Poitou Donkey
* American Spotted Donkey
* Cypriot Donkey

The Poitou Donkey breed was developed in France for the sole purpose of producing mules. It is a large donkey breed with a very long shaggy coat and no dorsal stripe.


The Spanish brought donkeys, called "burros" in Spanish, to North America beginning in the late fifteenth century. They were prized for their hardiness in arid country and became the beast of burden of choice by early prospectors in the Southwest United States. In the western United States the word "burro" is used as often as the word "donkey" by English speakers. Sometimes the distinction is made with donkeys descended from Mexican stock called "burros" and those from stock imported directly from Europe called "donkeys".

The wild burros (or more accurately, feral burros) on the western rangelands descend from animals that ran away, were abandoned, or were freed. Wild burros in the United States were protected by Public Law 92-195, The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. These animals, considered to be a living legacy, have lately been at risk due to drought. The Bureau of Land Management conducts round-ups of endangered herds, and holds public auctions.

Wild burros make good pets when treated well and cared for properly. They are clever and curious. When trust has been established, they appreciate, and even seek, attention and grooming.

Donkey hybrids

A male donkey (jack) can be crossed with a female horse to produce a mule. A male horse can be crossed with a female donkey (jennet or jenny) to produce a hinny. This is North American nomenclature; in the United Kingdom, the word hinny is not used. A female donkey in the UK is called a mare, or jenny and the word jennet is more commonly applied to the offspring of a female donkey and a male horse, regardless of whether the foal is female or male.

Horse-donkey hybrids are almost always sterile because horses have 64 chromosomes whereas donkeys have 62, producing offspring with 63 chromosomes. Due to different mating behavior, jacks are often more willing to cover mares than stallions are to breed jennets. Mules are much more common than hinnies. This is believed to be caused by two factors, the first being proven in cat hybrids, that when the chromosome count of the male is the higher, fertility rates drop (as in the case of stallion x jennet). The lower progesterone production of the jennet may also lead to early embryonic loss. Although it is commonly believed that mules are more easily handled and also physically stronger than hinnies, making them more desirable for breeders to produce, it is simply that mules are more common in total number.

The offspring of a zebra-donkey cross is called a zonkey, zebroid, zebrass, or zedonk; zebra mule is an outdated term. The foregoing terms generally refer to hybrids produced by breeding a male zebra to a female donkey. Zebra hinny, zebret and zebrinny all refer to the cross of a female zebra with a male donkey. Zebrinnies are rarer than zedonkies because female zebras in captivity are most valuable when used to produce full-blooded zebras. There are not enough female zebras breeding in captivity to spare them for hybridizing; there is no such limitation on the number of female donkeys breeding.

For at least the past century, a few donkeys and burros in Mexico have been painted with white stripes to amuse tourists. These are not hybrids.

An animal which may look like a zebra-donkey hybrid because of its distinctly striped hindquarters and hind legs is the okapi, which has no relationship to either of those species. Okapi are most closely related to the giraffe. In addition to the rear stripes, okapi have some striping near the top of their forelegs.

Wild Ass, Onager, and Kiang

With domestication of almost all donkeys, few species now exist in the wild. Some of them are the African Wild Ass (Equus africanus) and its subspecies Somalian Wild Ass (Equus africanus somaliensis). The Asiatic wild ass or Onager, Equus hemionus, and its relative the Kiang, Equus kiang, are closely related wild species.

There was another extinct subspecies called the Yukon Wild Ass (Equus asinus lambei). In the wild the asses can reach top speeds equalling zebras and even most horses.

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Equus africanus somaliensis
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