Donkeys (Equus Asinus) are the smallest members of the equine family which also includes horses, zebras, and mules. Since their domestication over 4000 years ago, they have been an important part of human civilization and culture. Donkeys are also known as burros, jackstocks and asses, but regardless of name, all donkeys are descended from the African Wild Ass, which is now critically endangered.
Desert climates are a donkey’s native habitat and its ability to extract nutrients and water from nearly inedible vegetation makes it considered an “easy keeper” in terms of stabling. This prized trait made donkeys invaluable and throughout their domesticated history they have frequently been preferred to other pack animals by warring armies, conquering explorers and scrabbling gold miners.
Comparatively stronger than horses for their size, donkeys are equally capable under pack, bridle, or harness. They possess the same gaits as horses, but it is rare for them to run. The high temperatures and broken ground of their desert habitat probably made the notion of running implausible and so, instead of fleeing, donkeys are more prone to analyze and evaluate situations for potential danger. Donkeys are highly intelligent and have a strong sense of self-preservation, a trait that has frequently given them the underserved reputation of being stubborn. Donkeys are not stubborn. We should more appropriately say they are cautious and no amount of human compulsion can make a situation safe if a donkey has decided it is dangerous.
This ability to think, and respond as necessary, has expanded the roles of donkeys beyond that of a “beast of burden,” to include them as guard animals. Donkeys are wonderful protectors to flocks of sheep and goats as well as herds of cattle. They have a natural and aggressive dislike of coyotes, wolves and other canines (including domestic dogs) and will defend themselves and their companions vigorously. As a herd animal themselves, they remain an integral, grazing part of the flock and so are always on hand to run down and trample a predator, or discourage it with a strong and well-aimed kick. With their stolid and quiet nature, donkeys are a calming influence on their more skittish cousin, the horse, and are superb pets and mounts for young children. Donkeys are known to be docile, playful, curious and affectionate and need the company of at least one other donkey to be happy.
Fun Donkey Facts
- Mules are a product of breeding a male donkey with a female horse. Hinnies are bred from female donkeys and male horses. Mules are considered the stronger and more desirable cross. Mules and hinnies are sterile.
- A male donkey is called a Jack. A female donkey is called a Jennet or Jenny. Their offspring are foals.
- Wild donkey herds are small and use their loud bray to keep in contact with each other over long distances.
- George Washington is responsible for the first breeding of Mammoth Jacks in the United States.
- If well cared for, donkeys can live for more than 40 years.
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