Donkeys (also called asses or burros) are members of the Equidae family, along with zebras and horses. Evidence of domestic donkeys has been found in Lower Egypt dating back to 4,000-3,000 BC. As pack animals they became vital in the development of long-distance trade across Egypt, as well as being invaluable for their milk, meat, and muscle for farm chores. The donkey spread to Southwest Asia and then Europe before arriving in North America with Christopher Columbus during his second voyage in 1495.
During the Gold Rush of the mid-1800s, the donkey was a popular beast of burden for the prospectors in the western US. When the boom ended, many were abandoned or escaped, and feral herds resulted.
Today, 44 million domesticated donkeys can be found all over the world. Wild donkeys are typically found in savannahs and deserts in northern Africa from Somalia to Morocco.
A wild donkey typically reaches up to 49 inches, but domesticated animals can range from 36″ (miniature donkey) to 56″ and over (mammoth jack). Their coats are often grey, brown, black, roan or broken-coloured and more rarely, white. Donkeys are known for their distinctive shoulder stripe and dorsal stripe, together called a “cross”, as well as for their large ears and loud braying voice.
Besides being bred to others of their own kind, donkeys are also bred with horses and zebras. The offspring of a male donkey (jack) and a female horse is known as a mule; a female donkey (jennet or jenny) crossed with a male horse results in a hinny. Both types of offspring are usually sterile and cannot produce offspring of their own. A donkey/zebra pairing results in a zonkey, zebroid, zebrass, or zedonk.
Domestic donkeys can live 40-50 years with good care.
Donkeys are quick learners and intelligent and while characterized as being stubborn, they actually just prefer to observe each situation carefully before proceeding. They are quite versatile and can be ridden, driven, used as pack animals, for predator control on farms, or as companions.
For more information, visit:
Canadian Donkey and Mule Association