Donkey
Overview
The donkey or ass, Equus africanus asinus, is a domesticated
Domestication
Domestication or taming is the process whereby a population of animals or plants, through a process of selection, becomes accustomed to human provision and control. In the Convention on Biological Diversity a domesticated species is defined as a 'species in which the evolutionary process has been...

 member of the Equidae
Equidae
Equidae is the taxonomic family of horses and related animals, including the extant horses, donkeys, and zebras, and many other species known only from fossils. All extant species are in the genus Equus...

 or horse family. The wild ancestor of the donkey is the African Wild Ass
African Wild Ass
The African Wild Ass is a wild member of the horse family, Equidae. This species is believed to be the ancestor of the domestic donkey which is usually placed within the same species. They live in the deserts and other arid areas of northeastern Africa, in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia; it...

, E. africanus.
In the western United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, a small donkey is sometimes called a burro (from the Spanish word for the animal).

A male donkey or ass is called a jack, a female a jenny
Jenny (donkey)
A jenny is the term used to describe a female ass or donkey. Occasionally, a female mule is referred to as a jenny, but more often, the term "molly," "mare" or "mule mare" is used. In western Canada, the term "jennet" is sometimes used instead of "jenny," though the term Jennet usually refers to a...

, and an offspring less than one year old a foal
Foal
A foal is an equine, particularly a horse, that is one year old or younger. More specific terms are colt for a male foal and filly for a female foal, but these terms are used until the horse is age three or four. When the foal is nursing from its dam , it may also be called a suckling...

 (male: colt
Colt (horse)
A colt is a young male horse, under the age of four. The term "colt" is often confused with foal, which refers to a horse of either sex under one year of age....

, female: filly
Filly
A filly is a young female horse too young to be called a mare. There are several specific definitions in use.*In most cases filly is a female horse under the age of four years old....

).

While different species of the Equidae
Equidae
Equidae is the taxonomic family of horses and related animals, including the extant horses, donkeys, and zebras, and many other species known only from fossils. All extant species are in the genus Equus...

 family can interbreed, offspring are almost always sterile.
Encyclopedia
The donkey or ass, Equus africanus asinus, is a domesticated
Domestication
Domestication or taming is the process whereby a population of animals or plants, through a process of selection, becomes accustomed to human provision and control. In the Convention on Biological Diversity a domesticated species is defined as a 'species in which the evolutionary process has been...

 member of the Equidae
Equidae
Equidae is the taxonomic family of horses and related animals, including the extant horses, donkeys, and zebras, and many other species known only from fossils. All extant species are in the genus Equus...

 or horse family. The wild ancestor of the donkey is the African Wild Ass
African Wild Ass
The African Wild Ass is a wild member of the horse family, Equidae. This species is believed to be the ancestor of the domestic donkey which is usually placed within the same species. They live in the deserts and other arid areas of northeastern Africa, in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia; it...

, E. africanus.
In the western United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, a small donkey is sometimes called a burro (from the Spanish word for the animal).

A male donkey or ass is called a jack, a female a jenny
Jenny (donkey)
A jenny is the term used to describe a female ass or donkey. Occasionally, a female mule is referred to as a jenny, but more often, the term "molly," "mare" or "mule mare" is used. In western Canada, the term "jennet" is sometimes used instead of "jenny," though the term Jennet usually refers to a...

, and an offspring less than one year old a foal
Foal
A foal is an equine, particularly a horse, that is one year old or younger. More specific terms are colt for a male foal and filly for a female foal, but these terms are used until the horse is age three or four. When the foal is nursing from its dam , it may also be called a suckling...

 (male: colt
Colt (horse)
A colt is a young male horse, under the age of four. The term "colt" is often confused with foal, which refers to a horse of either sex under one year of age....

, female: filly
Filly
A filly is a young female horse too young to be called a mare. There are several specific definitions in use.*In most cases filly is a female horse under the age of four years old....

).

While different species of the Equidae
Equidae
Equidae is the taxonomic family of horses and related animals, including the extant horses, donkeys, and zebras, and many other species known only from fossils. All extant species are in the genus Equus...

 family can interbreed, offspring are almost always sterile. Nonetheless, horse/donkey hybrids are popular for their durability and vigor. A mule
Mule
A mule is the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse. Horses and donkeys are different species, with different numbers of chromosomes. Of the two F1 hybrids between these two species, a mule is easier to obtain than a hinny...

 is the offspring of a jack (male donkey) and a mare
Mare (horse)
A mare is an adult female horse or other equine.In most cases, a mare is a female horse over the age of three, and a filly is a female horse age three and younger. However, in Thoroughbred horse racing, a mare is defined as a female horse more than four years old; in harness racing a mare is a...

 (female horse). The much rarer successful mating of a male horse and a female donkey produces a hinny
Hinny
A hinny is a domestic equine hybrid that is the offspring of a male horse and a female donkey . It is similar to the more common mule, which is the product of a female horse and a male donkey....

.

Asses were first domesticated
Domestication of the horse
There are a number of hypotheses on many of the key issues regarding the domestication of the horse. Although horses appeared in Paleolithic cave art as early as 30,000 BCE, these were truly wild horses and were probably hunted for meat. How and when horses became domesticated is disputed...

 around 3000 BC, or 4000 BC, probably in Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

 or Mesopotamia
Mesopotamia
Mesopotamia is a toponym for the area of the Tigris–Euphrates river system, largely corresponding to modern-day Iraq, northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and southwestern Iran.Widely considered to be the cradle of civilization, Bronze Age Mesopotamia included Sumer and the...

, and have spread around the world. They continue to fill important roles in many places today. While domesticated species are increasing in numbers, the African wild ass and another relative, the Onager
Onager
The Onager is a large member of the genus Equus of the family Equidae native to the deserts of Syria, Iran, Pakistan, India, Israel and Tibet...

, are endangered
Endangered species
An endangered species is a population of organisms which is at risk of becoming extinct because it is either few in numbers, or threatened by changing environmental or predation parameters...

. As "beasts of burden
Working animal
A working animal is an animal, usually domesticated, that is kept by humans and trained to perform tasks. They may be close members of the family, such as guide or service dogs, or they may be animals trained strictly to perform a job, such as logging elephants. They may also be used for milk, a...

" and companions, asses and donkeys have worked together with humans for millennia.

Scientific and common names

Traditionally, the scientific name for the donkey is Equus asinus asinus based on the principle of priority used for scientific names of animals. However, the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature
International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature
The International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature is an organization dedicated to "achieving stability and sense in the scientific naming of animals". Founded in 1895, it currently comprises 28 members from 20 countries, mainly practicing zoological taxonomists...

 ruled in 2003 that if the domestic species and the wild species are considered subspecies of each other, the scientific name of the wild species has priority, even when that subspecies was described after the domestic subspecies. This means that the proper scientific name for the donkey is Equus africanus asinus when it is considered a subspecies, and Equus asinus when it is considered a species.

Until recently the synonym
Synonym
Synonyms are different words with almost identical or similar meanings. Words that are synonyms are said to be synonymous, and the state of being a synonym is called synonymy. The word comes from Ancient Greek syn and onoma . The words car and automobile are synonyms...

 ass was the more common term for the donkey, as in jackass, meaning "male donkey". The first written use of donkey is as recent as 1785. While the word ass has cognate
Cognate
In linguistics, cognates are words that have a common etymological origin. This learned term derives from the Latin cognatus . Cognates within the same language are called doublets. Strictly speaking, loanwords from another language are usually not meant by the term, e.g...

s in most other Indo-European languages
Indo-European languages
The Indo-European languages are a family of several hundred related languages and dialects, including most major current languages of Europe, the Iranian plateau, and South Asia and also historically predominant in Anatolia...

, donkey is an etymologically
Etymology
Etymology is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time.For languages with a long written history, etymologists make use of texts in these languages and texts about the languages to gather knowledge about how words were used during...

 obscure word for which no credible cognate has been identified. Hypotheses on its derivation include the following:
  • Perhaps a diminutive of dun
    Dun gene
    The dun gene is a dilution gene that affects both red and black pigments in the coat color of a horse. The dun gene has the ability to affect the appearance of all black, bay, or chestnut -based horses to some degree by lightening the base body coat and suppressing the underlying base color to the...

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

The homonym
Homonym
In linguistics, a homonym is, in the strict sense, one of a group of words that often but not necessarily share the same spelling and the same pronunciation but have different meanings...

ity in the United States with a vulgar term ass for "buttocks" may have influenced its gradual replacement by donkey there, though this does not account for the parallel change in Britain and Australia.

Characteristics

Donkeys vary considerably in size, depending on breed and management. The height at the withers
Withers
The withers is the ridge between the shoulder blades of a four-legged animal. In many species it is the tallest point of the body, and in horses and dogs it is the standard place to measure the animal's height .-Horses:The withers in horses are formed by the dorsal spinal processes of roughly the...

 ranges from 80 to 160 cm (31.5 to 63 in), and the weight from 80 tonocomma. Donkeys have a lifespan of 30 to 50 years.

Donkeys are adapted to marginal desert
Desert
A desert is a landscape or region that receives an extremely low amount of precipitation, less than enough to support growth of most plants. Most deserts have an average annual precipitation of less than...

 lands, and have many traits that are unique to the species as a result. Wild donkeys live separated from each other, unlike tight wild horse
Wild Horse
The wild horse is a species of the genus Equus, which includes as subspecies the domesticated horse as well as the undomesticated Tarpan and Przewalski's Horse. The Tarpan became extinct in the 19th century, and Przewalski's Horse was saved from the brink of extinction and reintroduced...

 and feral horse
Feral horse
A feral horse is a free-roaming horse of domesticated ancestry. As such, a feral horse is not a wild animal in the sense of an animal without domesticated ancestors. However, some populations of feral horses are managed as wildlife, and these horses often are popularly called "wild" horses...

 herds. Donkeys have developed very loud vocalizations, which help keep in contact with other donkeys over the wide spaces of the desert. The best-known call is referred to as a "bray," which can be heard for over three kilometers. Donkeys have larger ears than horses. Their longer ears may pick up more distant sounds, and may help cool the donkey's blood. Donkeys in the wild can defend themselves with a powerful kick of their hind legs as well as by biting and striking with their front hooves.

Breeding

Jennies are normally pregnant for about 12 months, though the gestation period varies from 11 to almost 14 months. Jennies usually give birth to a single foal. Twins are very rare: only about 1.7 percent of donkey pregnancies result in twins, and both twins survive in only about 14 percent of cases.

Nutrition

Donkeys' tough digestive system
Horse anatomy
Equine anatomy refers to the gross and microscopic anatomy of horses and other equids, including donkeys, and zebras. While all anatomical features of equids are described in the same terms as for other animals by the International Committee on Veterinary Gross Anatomical Nomenclature in the book...

 is somewhat less prone to colic
Horse colic
Colic in horses is defined as abdominal pain, but it is a clinical sign rather than a diagnosis. The term colic can encompass all forms of gastrointestinal conditions which cause pain as well as other causes of abdominal pain not involving the gastrointestinal tract. The most common forms of colic...

 than that of horses, can break down near-inedible vegetation and extract moisture from food very efficiently. As a rule, donkeys need smaller amounts of feed
Equine nutrition
Equine nutrition is the feeding of horses, ponies, mules, donkeys, and other equines. Correct and balanced nutrition is a critical component of proper horse care....

 than horses of comparable height and weight. Because they are easy keeper
Easy keeper
An easy keeper, easy doer or good doer is a livestock animal that can live on relatively little food. The opposite of an easy keeper is a hard keeper , an animal that is prone to be too thin and has difficulty maintaining adequate weight.Easy keepers tend to be found most often in breeds...

s, if overfed, donkeys are also quite susceptible to laminitis
Laminitis
Laminitis is a disease that affects the feet of ungulates. It is best known in horses and cattle. Symptoms include lameness, and increased temperature in the hooves...

.

Donkeys evolved to spend 14–16 hours per day browsing and foraging for food. In their native arid and semi-arid climates this would often be a poor quality, scrubby fiber. Domesticated donkey owners face the challenge of feeding their donkey enough low energy fiber in order to meet their appetite, but in temperate climates the forage available is often too rich and abundant, resulting in weight gain and obesity with further implications including laminitis
Laminitis
Laminitis is a disease that affects the feet of ungulates. It is best known in horses and cattle. Symptoms include lameness, and increased temperature in the hooves...

, hyperlipidemia
Hyperlipidemia
Hyperlipidemia, hyperlipoproteinemia, or hyperlipidaemia is the condition of abnormally elevated levels of any or all lipids and/or lipoproteins in the blood...

 and gastric ulcers. Although the donkey’s gastrointestinal tract has no marked differences in structure to that of the horse, it is well documented that "donkeys are more efficient at digesting food than horses and, as a consequence, can thrive on less forage than a similar sized pony". Donkeys need to eat approximately 1.5 percent of their body weight per day in dry matter, compared with 2-2.5 percent for horses. It is not fully understood why donkeys are such efficient digestors but it is thought that they may have a different microbial population in the large intestine than do horses. Another possibility is increased gut retention time compared to ponies.

Donkeys gain most of their daily energy needs from structural carbohydrates
Dietary fiber
Dietary fiber, dietary fibre, or sometimes roughage is the indigestible portion of plant foods having two main components:* soluble fiber that is readily fermented in the colon into gases and physiologically active byproducts, and* insoluble fiber that is metabolically inert, absorbing water as it...

. An average, healthy donkey only requires free choice feeding of low-calorie fiber-rich forage
Forage
Forage is plant material eaten by grazing livestock.Historically the term forage has meant only plants eaten by the animals directly as pasture, crop residue, or immature cereal crops, but it is also used more loosely to include similar plants cut for fodder and carried to the animals, especially...

 such as straw
Straw
Straw is an agricultural by-product, the dry stalks of cereal plants, after the grain and chaff have been removed. Straw makes up about half of the yield of cereal crops such as barley, oats, rice, rye and wheat. It has many uses, including fuel, livestock bedding and fodder, thatching and...

 (preferably barley straw), supplemented with controlled grazing in the summer and hay
Hay
Hay is grass, legumes or other herbaceous plants that have been cut, dried, and stored for use as animal fodder, particularly for grazing livestock such as cattle, horses, goats, and sheep. Hay is also fed to pets such as rabbits and guinea pigs...

 in the winter. A donkey’s requirement for protein and fat are so low that in practice once the energy requirements are met so too are the protein and fat requirements. Cereal based feeds designed for horses are often too high in energy levels and will exceed the daily requirements of donkeys. Even a small amount of grazing or fresh fodder
Fodder
Fodder or animal feed is any agricultural foodstuff used specifically to feed domesticated livestock such as cattle, goats, sheep, horses, chickens and pigs. Most animal feed is from plants but some is of animal origin...

 during the spring and summer will provide adequate vitamin levels, so for a normal, healthy donkey a diet of straw plus a little grazing or hay meets their nutritional needs without need for concentrated feeds. A low-calorie vitamin and mineral supplement is recommended for donkeys year-round when on a restricted diet, and to all donkeys during the winter months.

Behaviour

Donkeys have a notorious reputation for stubbornness, but this has been attributed to a much stronger sense of "self preservation" than exhibited by horses. Likely based on a stronger prey instinct and a weaker connection with man, it is considerably more difficult to force or frighten a donkey into doing something it perceives to be dangerous for whatever reason. Once a person has earned their confidence they can be willing and companionable partners and very dependable in work.

Although formal studies of their behaviour
Ethology
Ethology is the scientific study of animal behavior, and a sub-topic of zoology....

 and cognition
Animal cognition
Animal cognition is the title given to the study of the mental capacities of non-human animals. It has developed out of comparative psychology, but has also been strongly influenced by the approach of ethology, behavioral ecology, and evolutionary psychology...

 are rather limited, donkeys appear to be quite intelligent, cautious, friendly, playful, and eager to learn.

Communication

Braying is the characteristic sound made by an ass, donkey, and most mules. Donkeys use this sound to communicate and will bray more frequently when a new donkey is encountered. The sound typically lasts for twenty seconds. The sound may be rendered onomatapoeically as "eeyore
Eeyore
Eeyore is a character in the Winnie-the-Pooh books by A. A. Milne. He is generally characterized as a pessimistic, gloomy, depressed, anhedonic, old grey stuffed donkey who is a friend of the title character, Winnie-the-Pooh....

" and so this was used as the name of the donkey in Winnie-the-Pooh
Winnie-the-Pooh (book)
Winnie-the-Pooh is the first volume of stories about Winnie-the-Pooh, by A. A. Milne. It is followed by The House at Pooh Corner. The book focuses on the adventures of a teddy bear called Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends Piglet, a small toy pig; Eeyore, a toy donkey; Owl, a live owl; and Rabbit, a...

. Donkeys may be trained to bray or not to bray upon command. This may be used as a form of mockery
Mockery
Mockery is an American film about the Russian Revolution. It was the second film made in Hollywood by Danish director Benjamin Christensen and starred Lon Chaney, Sr...

. Braying may be considered a simile
Simile
A simile is a figure of speech that directly compares two different things, usually by employing the words "like", "as". Even though both similes and metaphors are forms of comparison, similes indirectly compare the two ideas and allow them to remain distinct in spite of their similarities, whereas...

 for loud and foolish speech. For example,

History

The ancestors of the modern donkey are the Nubia
Nubia
Nubia is a region along the Nile river, which is located in northern Sudan and southern Egypt.There were a number of small Nubian kingdoms throughout the Middle Ages, the last of which collapsed in 1504, when Nubia became divided between Egypt and the Sennar sultanate resulting in the Arabization...

n and Somalia
Somalia
Somalia , officially the Somali Republic and formerly known as the Somali Democratic Republic under Socialist rule, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. Since the outbreak of the Somali Civil War in 1991 there has been no central government control over most of the country's territory...

n subspecies of African wild ass
African Wild Ass
The African Wild Ass is a wild member of the horse family, Equidae. This species is believed to be the ancestor of the domestic donkey which is usually placed within the same species. They live in the deserts and other arid areas of northeastern Africa, in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia; it...

. Remains of domestic donkeys dating to the fourth millennium BC have been found in Ma'adi in Lower Egypt, and it is believed that the domestication of the donkey was accomplished long after the domestication of cattle, sheep and goats in the seventh and eighth millennia BC. Donkeys were probably first domesticated by pastoral people in Nubia
Nubia
Nubia is a region along the Nile river, which is located in northern Sudan and southern Egypt.There were a number of small Nubian kingdoms throughout the Middle Ages, the last of which collapsed in 1504, when Nubia became divided between Egypt and the Sennar sultanate resulting in the Arabization...

, and they supplanted the ox
Ox
An ox , also known as a bullock in Australia, New Zealand and India, is a bovine trained as a draft animal. Oxen are commonly castrated adult male cattle; castration makes the animals more tractable...

 as the chief pack animal of that culture. The domestication of donkeys served to increase the mobility of pastoral cultures, having the advantage over ruminants of not needing time to chew their cud, and were vital in the development of long-distance trade across Egypt. In the Dynasty IV era of Egypt, between 2675 and 2565 BC, wealthy members of society were known to own over 1,000 donkeys, employed in agriculture, as dairy and meat animals and as pack animals. In 2003, the tomb of either King Narmer
Narmer
Narmer was an ancient Egyptian pharaoh of the Early Dynastic Period . He is thought to be the successor to the Protodynastic pharaohs Scorpion and/or Ka, and he is considered by some to be the unifier of Egypt and founder of the First Dynasty, and therefore the first pharaoh of unified Egypt.The...

 or King Hor-Aha
Hor-Aha
Hor-Aha is considered the second pharaoh of the first dynasty of ancient Egypt in current Egyptology. He lived around the thirty-first century BC.- Name :...

 (two of the first Egyptian pharaohs) was excavated and the skeletons of ten donkeys were found buried in a manner usually used with high ranking humans. These burials show the importance of donkeys to the early Egyptian state and its ruler.

By the end of the fourth millennium BC, donkey had spread to Southwest Asia, and the main breeding center had shifted to Mesopotamia
Mesopotamia
Mesopotamia is a toponym for the area of the Tigris–Euphrates river system, largely corresponding to modern-day Iraq, northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and southwestern Iran.Widely considered to be the cradle of civilization, Bronze Age Mesopotamia included Sumer and the...

 by 1800 BC. The breeding of large, white riding asses made Damascus
Damascus
Damascus , commonly known in Syria as Al Sham , and as the City of Jasmine , is the capital and the second largest city of Syria after Aleppo, both are part of the country's 14 governorates. In addition to being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Damascus is a major...

 famous, while Syrian breeders developed at least three other breeds, including one preferred by women for its easy gait
Horse gait
Horse gaits are the various ways in which a horse can move, either naturally or as a result of specialized training by humans.-Classification:...

. The Muscat or Yemen ass was developed in Arabia. By the second millennium BC, the donkey was brought to Europe, possibly at the same time as viticulture
Viticulture
Viticulture is the science, production and study of grapes which deals with the series of events that occur in the vineyard. When the grapes are used for winemaking, it is also known as viniculture...

 was introduced, as the donkey is associated with the Syrian god of wine, Dionysus
Dionysus
Dionysus was the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness and ecstasy in Greek mythology. His name in Linear B tablets shows he was worshipped from c. 1500—1100 BC by Mycenean Greeks: other traces of Dionysian-type cult have been found in ancient Minoan Crete...

. Greeks spread both of these to many of their colonies, including those in what are now Italy, France and Spain; Romans dispersed them throughout their empire.
The first donkeys in the New World
New World
The New World is one of the names used for the Western Hemisphere, specifically America and sometimes Oceania . The term originated in the late 15th century, when America had been recently discovered by European explorers, expanding the geographical horizon of the people of the European middle...

 arrived in 1495 on a supply ship to Christopher Columbus
Christopher Columbus
Christopher Columbus was an explorer, colonizer, and navigator, born in the Republic of Genoa, in northwestern Italy. Under the auspices of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, he completed four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean that led to general European awareness of the American continents in the...

, with four jacks and two jennies in the cargo delivered to Hispaniola
Hispaniola
Hispaniola is a major island in the Caribbean, containing the two sovereign states of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The island is located between the islands of Cuba to the west and Puerto Rico to the east, within the hurricane belt...

. These were used to breed mules for expeditions to mainland America, with males preferred for pack animals and the females for riding. The first shipment of mules, including three jacks and twelve jennies, arrived in Mexico from Cuba ten years after the conquest of the Aztec
Aztec
The Aztec people were certain ethnic groups of central Mexico, particularly those groups who spoke the Nahuatl language and who dominated large parts of Mesoamerica in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, a period referred to as the late post-classic period in Mesoamerican chronology.Aztec is the...

s. Mules were used in silver mines, and each Spanish outpost in the empire bred its own mules from its own jack. Donkeys arrived in large numbers in the western United States during the nineteenth century gold rush
Gold rush
A gold rush is a period of feverish migration of workers to an area that has had a dramatic discovery of gold. Major gold rushes took place in the 19th century in Australia, Brazil, Canada, South Africa, and the United States, while smaller gold rushes took place elsewhere.In the 19th and early...

es, as pack animals and for use in mines and ore-grinding mills. The major use of donkeys came to an end with the end of the mining boom and the introduction of railroads in the West. With little value, many animals were turned loose to become the populations of free-roaming donkeys that inhabit the West today.

Miniature donkeys originally developed on Sicily
Sicily
Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...

 and Sardinia
Sardinia
Sardinia is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea . It is an autonomous region of Italy, and the nearest land masses are the French island of Corsica, the Italian Peninsula, Sicily, Tunisia and the Spanish Balearic Islands.The name Sardinia is from the pre-Roman noun *sard[],...

 in the Mediterranean, but are now almost extinct on those islands. Breeders in the United States have spent decades breeding what they term the Miniature Mediterranean Donkey, a mix of Sicilian and Sardinian strains, following the establishment of a breed registry
Breed registry
A breed registry, also known as a stud book or register, in animal husbandry and the hobby of animal fancy, is an official list of animals within a specific breed whose parents are known. Animals are usually registered by their breeders when they are still young...

 in 1958. Large, draft-type donkeys originated with the Andalusian-type donkey
Andalusian donkey
The Andalusian donkey is a native Spanish breed donkeys native to Córdoba in Andalusia, also called "Donkey of Lucena Breed" because this town is its origin. It is considered the Oldest of the European breeds, with some 3,000 years, and is threatened with extinction.-Features:It is a large breed in...

, and today are seen in the United States as the American Mammoth Jack
American Mammoth Jack
The American Mammoth Donkey, commonly known as the Mammoth Jack, or American Mammoth Jack is a descendant of multiple breeds of donkey imported to the United States. Breeds that influenced the Mammoth Jack include the Maltese donkey, Poitou donkey , Andalusian donkey, Majorcan donkey, and...

, a mix of many other donkey breeds.

As of 2007 there were estimated to be around 44 million donkeys worldwide. The majority of these are used for agriculture and transportation, although most donkeys in the US (a population of about 55,000, about half of which are Miniature donkeys) are used for recreation or as pets. Donkeys are increasing in popularity in Canada and the US, where they are used as pack animals, riding animals and for pulling wagons. They are also used to halterbreak calves
Calf
Calves are the young of domestic cattle. Calves are reared to become adult cattle, or are slaughtered for their meat, called veal.-Terminology:...

 and as guard animals for flocks of sheep, protecting them from coyotes and dogs. According to British food writer Matthew Fort
Matthew Fort
Matthew Fort is a British food writer and critic. Matthew Fort attended Eton College, and later Lancaster University. He has been the Food and Drink editor of The Guardian for over ten years. He also writes for Esquire, The Observer, Country Living, Decanter and Waitrose Food Illustrated...

, donkeys were, until recently, used in the Italian Army
Italian Army
The Italian Army is the ground defence force of the Italian Armed Forces. It is all-volunteer force of active-duty personnel, numbering 108,355 in 2010. Its best-known combat vehicles are the Dardo infantry fighting vehicle, the Centauro tank destroyer and the Ariete tank, and among its aircraft...

. The Mountain Fusiliers each had a donkey to carry
Pack animal
A pack animal or beast of burden is a working animal used by humans as means of transporting materials by attaching them so their weight bears on the animal's back; the term may be applied to either an individual animal or a species so employed...

 their gear, and in extreme circumstances the animal could be eaten. They have also been used to carry explosives in conflicts that include the war in Afghanistan
War in Afghanistan (2001–present)
The War in Afghanistan began on October 7, 2001, as the armed forces of the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Australia, and the Afghan United Front launched Operation Enduring Freedom...

 and others. Some cultures that prohibit women from working with oxen in agriculture do not extend this taboo to donkeys, allowing them to be used by both sexes.

Present status

About 41 million donkeys were reported worldwide in 2006. China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 has the most with 11 million, followed by Pakistan
Pakistan
Pakistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a sovereign state in South Asia. It has a coastline along the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman in the south and is bordered by Afghanistan and Iran in the west, India in the east and China in the far northeast. In the north, Tajikistan...

, Ethiopia
Ethiopia
Ethiopia , officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is the second-most populous nation in Africa, with over 82 million inhabitants, and the tenth-largest by area, occupying 1,100,000 km2...

 and Mexico
Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

. Some researchers believe the actual number is somewhat higher since many donkeys go uncounted. The number of breeds and percentage of world population for each of the FAO's world regions was in 2006:
Region No. of breeds % of world pop.
Africa 26 26.9
Asia & Pacific 32 37.6
Europe & the Caucasus 51 3.7
Latin America & the Caribbean 24 19.9
Near & Middle East 47 11.8
North America 5 0.1
World 185 41 million head


In 1997 the number of donkeys in the world was reported to be continuing to grow, as it had steadily done throughout most of history; factors cited as contributing to this were increasing human population, progress in economic development and social stability in some poorer nations, conversion of forest
Forest
A forest, also referred to as a wood or the woods, is an area with a high density of trees. As with cities, depending where you are in the world, what is considered a forest may vary significantly in size and have various classification according to how and what of the forest is composed...

s to farm and range land, rising prices of motor vehicles and fuel, and the popularity of donkeys as pets.
More recently, the world population of donkeys is reported to be rapidly shrinking, falling from 43.7 million to 43.5 million between 1995 and 2000, and to only 41 million in 2006.

The Domestic Animal Diversity Information System (DAD-IS
DAD-IS
DAD-IS is the acronym of the worldwide Domestic Animal Diversity Information System of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. It is defined as "a communication and information tool" for the FAO's Management of Animal Genetic Resources programme...

) of the FAO
Fão
Fão is a town in Esposende Municipality in Portugal....

 listed 189 breeds of ass in June 2011. In 2000 the number of breeds of donkey recorded worldwide was 97, and in 1995 it was 77. The rapid increase is attributed to attention paid to identification and recognition of donkey breeds by the FAO's Animal Genetic Resources project.
In prosperous countries, the welfare of donkeys both at home and abroad has recently become a concern, and a number of sanctuaries for retired and rescued donkeys have been set up. The largest is the Donkey Sanctuary of England, which also supports donkey welfare projects in Egypt, Ethiopia, India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, Kenya
Kenya
Kenya , officially known as the Republic of Kenya, is a country in East Africa that lies on the equator, with the Indian Ocean to its south-east...

, and Mexico.

Economic use


Classic British seaside donkeys in Skegness
Skegness
Skegness is a seaside town and civil parish in the East Lindsey district of Lincolnshire, England. Located on the Lincolnshire coast of the North Sea, east of the city of Lincoln it has a total resident population of 18,910....


The vast majority of donkeys are used for the same types of work that they have been doing for 6000 years. Their most common role is for transport, whether riding, pack transport, or pulling carts. They may also be used for farm tillage, threshing, raising water, milling, and other jobs. Other donkeys are used to sire mules, as companions for horses, to guard sheep, and as pets. In the past, donkey skin was used in the production of parchment
Parchment
Parchment is a thin material made from calfskin, sheepskin or goatskin, often split. Its most common use was as a material for writing on, for documents, notes, or the pages of a book, codex or manuscript. It is distinct from leather in that parchment is limed but not tanned; therefore, it is very...

.

A few donkeys are milked or raised for meat; in Italy, which has the highest consumption of equine meat in Europe and where donkey meat is the main ingredient of several regional dishes, only about 1000 donkeys were slaughtered in 2010, yielding approximately 100 tonnes of meat. Asses' milk may command good prices: the average price in Italy in 2009 was €15 per litre, and a price of €6 per 100 ml was reported from Croatia in 2008; it is used for soaps and cosmetics as well as dietary purposes. The niche markets for both milk and meat are expanding.

Donkeys are often pastured or stabled with horses and ponies, and are thought to have a calming effect on nervous horses. If a donkey is introduced to a mare
Mare (horse)
A mare is an adult female horse or other equine.In most cases, a mare is a female horse over the age of three, and a filly is a female horse age three and younger. However, in Thoroughbred horse racing, a mare is defined as a female horse more than four years old; in harness racing a mare is a...

 and foal
Foal
A foal is an equine, particularly a horse, that is one year old or younger. More specific terms are colt for a male foal and filly for a female foal, but these terms are used until the horse is age three or four. When the foal is nursing from its dam , it may also be called a suckling...

, the foal will often turn to the donkey for support after it has been weaned from its mother.

Donkeys are now commonly kept as pet
Pet
A pet is a household animal kept for companionship and a person's enjoyment, as opposed to wild animals or to livestock, laboratory animals, working animals or sport animals, which are kept for economic or productive reasons. The most popular pets are noted for their loyal or playful...

s in countries where their use as beasts of burden has disappeared. Donkey rides
Donkey rides
Donkey rides are a traditional feature of seaside resorts in England. Children are allowed to ride donkeys on a sandy beach for a fee in summer months while on holiday, normally led in groups at walking pace...

 for children are also a popular pastime for children in holiday resorts or other leisure contexts.

Shoeing


A donkey shoe with calkins

Farriers shoeing a donkey in Cyprus
Cyprus
Cyprus , officially the Republic of Cyprus , is a Eurasian island country, member of the European Union, in the Eastern Mediterranean, east of Greece, south of Turkey, west of Syria and north of Egypt. It is the third largest island in the Mediterranean Sea.The earliest known human activity on the...

 in 1900

Working donkeys may need to be shod. Donkey shoes are similar to horseshoe
Horseshoe
A horseshoe, is a fabricated product, normally made of metal, although sometimes made partially or wholly of modern synthetic materials, designed to protect a horse's hoof from wear and tear. Shoes are attached on the palmar surface of the hooves, usually nailed through the insensitive hoof wall...

s, but usually smaller and without toe-clips.

Feral donkeys and wild asses

In some areas domestic donkeys have returned to the wild and established feral
Feral
A feral organism is one that has changed from being domesticated to being wild or untamed. In the case of plants it is a movement from cultivated to uncultivated or controlled to volunteer. The introduction of feral animals or plants to their non-native regions, like any introduced species, may...

 populations, such as the Burro
Burro
The burro is a small donkey used primarily as a pack animal. In addition, significant numbers of feral burros live in the Southwestern United States, where they are protected by law, and in Mexico...

 of North America and the Asinara donkey of Sardinia
Sardinia
Sardinia is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea . It is an autonomous region of Italy, and the nearest land masses are the French island of Corsica, the Italian Peninsula, Sicily, Tunisia and the Spanish Balearic Islands.The name Sardinia is from the pre-Roman noun *sard[],...

, Italy, both of which have protected status. Feral donkeys can also cause problems, notably in environments that have been evolutionarily free of any form of equid, such as Hawaii. In Australia, where there may be 5 million feral donkeys
Feral donkeys in Australia
Feral donkeys in Australia are donkeys which escaped from captivity, and are living and breeding in the wild.Donkeys originated in Africa and also parts of Asia. They are a part of the Equidae family...

, they are regarded as an invasive pest and have a serious impact on the environment. They may compete with livestock and native animals for resources, spread weeds and diseases, foul or damage watering holes and cause erosion.

Wild asses, onagers, and kiangs

With the domestication of almost all donkeys, few species now exist in the wild. They include the African Wild Ass
African Wild Ass
The African Wild Ass is a wild member of the horse family, Equidae. This species is believed to be the ancestor of the domestic donkey which is usually placed within the same species. They live in the deserts and other arid areas of northeastern Africa, in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia; it...

, Equus africanus, and its critically endangered subspecies the Somali Wild Ass, Equus africanus somaliensis, and Nubian Wild Ass, Equus africanus africanus, the principal ancestor of the domestic donkey. Extinct species include the European Ass
European Ass
The European Ass is an extinct equine from the middle and late Pleistocene of Eurasia. It appeared first in the fossil report 300,000 years before present and did not disappear until Holocene times...

, Equus hydruntinus, which became extinct during the Neolithic
Neolithic
The Neolithic Age, Era, or Period, or New Stone Age, was a period in the development of human technology, beginning about 9500 BC in some parts of the Middle East, and later in other parts of the world. It is traditionally considered as the last part of the Stone Age...

, and the North African Wild Ass, Equus africanus atlanticus, which became extinct in Roman
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

 times.

There are also five subspecies of Asiatic Wild Ass or Onager
Onager
The Onager is a large member of the genus Equus of the family Equidae native to the deserts of Syria, Iran, Pakistan, India, Israel and Tibet...

, Equus hemionus, and three subspecies of the kiang
Kiang
The kiang is the largest of the wild asses. It is native to the Tibetan Plateau, where it inhabits montane and alpine grasslands. Its current range is restricted to Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir, plains of the Tibetan plateau and northern Nepal along the Tibetan border...

, Equus kiang, of the Himalayan upland.

In the wild asses can reach top speeds equalling zebra
Zebra
Zebras are several species of African equids united by their distinctive black and white stripes. Their stripes come in different patterns unique to each individual. They are generally social animals that live in small harems to large herds...

s and even most horse
Horse
The horse is one of two extant subspecies of Equus ferus, or the wild horse. It is a single-hooved mammal belonging to the taxonomic family Equidae. The horse has evolved over the past 45 to 55 million years from a small multi-toed creature into the large, single-toed animal of today...

s.

Donkey hybrids

A male donkey (jack) can be crossed with a female horse to produce a mule
Mule
A mule is the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse. Horses and donkeys are different species, with different numbers of chromosomes. Of the two F1 hybrids between these two species, a mule is easier to obtain than a hinny...

. A male horse can be crossed with a female donkey (jennet or jenny) to produce a hinny
Hinny
A hinny is a domestic equine hybrid that is the offspring of a male horse and a female donkey . It is similar to the more common mule, which is the product of a female horse and a male donkey....

. A female donkey in the UK is called a mare, or jenny.

Horse-donkey hybrids are almost always sterile
Infertility
Infertility primarily refers to the biological inability of a person to contribute to conception. Infertility may also refer to the state of a woman who is unable to carry a pregnancy to full term...

 because horses have 64 chromosome
Chromosome
A chromosome is an organized structure of DNA and protein found in cells. It is a single piece of coiled DNA containing many genes, regulatory elements and other nucleotide sequences. Chromosomes also contain DNA-bound proteins, which serve to package the DNA and control its functions.Chromosomes...

s whereas donkeys have 62, producing offspring with 63 chromosomes. 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 jenny may also lead to early embryonic loss. In addition, there are reasons not directly related to reproductive biology. Due to different mating
Mating
In biology, mating is the pairing of opposite-sex or hermaphroditic organisms for copulation. In social animals, it also includes the raising of their offspring. Copulation is the union of the sex organs of two sexually reproducing animals for insemination and subsequent internal fertilization...

 behavior, jacks are often more willing to cover mares than stallions are to breed jennys. Further, mares are usually larger than jennys and thus have more room for the ensuing foal to grow in the womb, resulting in a larger animal at birth. It is commonly believed that mules are more easily handled and also physically stronger than hinnies, making them more desirable for breeders to produce, and it is unquestioned that mules are more common in total number.

The offspring of a zebra
Zebra
Zebras are several species of African equids united by their distinctive black and white stripes. Their stripes come in different patterns unique to each individual. They are generally social animals that live in small harems to large herds...

-donkey cross is called a zonkey, zebroid
Zebroid
A zebroid is the offspring of any cross between a zebra and any other equine: essentially, a zebra hybrid. In most cases, the sire is a zebra stallion. Offspring of a donkey sire and zebra dam, called a zebra hinny, or donkra, do exist but are rare. Zebroids have been bred since the 19th century...

, zebrass, or zedonk; zebra mule is an older term, but still used in some regions today. 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.

Cultural references

The long history of human donkey use has created a rich store of cultural references:

Religion, myth and folklore

Donkeys (or asses) are mentioned many times in the Bible
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

, beginning in the first book and continuing through both Old
Old Testament
The Old Testament, of which Christians hold different views, is a Christian term for the religious writings of ancient Israel held sacred and inspired by Christians which overlaps with the 24-book canon of the Masoretic Text of Judaism...

 and New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

s. They are generally seen as work animals, used for agricultural purposes, transport and as beasts of burden, and terminology is used to differentiate age and gender. In contrast, horses were shown in use only in the context of war - ridden by the cavalry
Cavalry
Cavalry or horsemen were soldiers or warriors who fought mounted on horseback. Cavalry were historically the third oldest and the most mobile of the combat arms...

 or pulling chariot
Chariot
The chariot is a type of horse carriage used in both peace and war as the chief vehicle of many ancient peoples. Ox carts, proto-chariots, were built by the Proto-Indo-Europeans and also built in Mesopotamia as early as 3000 BC. The original horse chariot was a fast, light, open, two wheeled...

s. Owners were protected by law from loss caused by the death or injury of a donkey, showing their value in that time period. Narrative turning points in the Bible (and other stories) are often marked through the use of donkeys - for instance, leading, saddling, or mounting/dismounting a donkey are used to show a change in focus or a decision having been made. They are used as a measure of wealth in Genesis 30:43, and in Genesis chapter 34, the prince of Shechem
Shechem
Shechem was a Canaanite city mentioned in the Amarna letters, and is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible as an Israelite city of the tribe of Manasseh and the first capital of the Kingdom of Israel...

 (the modern Nablus
Nablus
Nablus is a Palestinian city in the northern West Bank, approximately north of Jerusalem, with a population of 126,132. Located in a strategic position between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim, it is the capital of the Nablus Governorate and a Palestinian commercial and cultural center.Founded by the...

) is named Hamor ("donkey" in Hebrew). The cross-shaped marking present on donkeys' backs and shoulders supposedly celebrates the animal bearing Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday
Palm Sunday
Palm Sunday is a Christian moveable feast that falls on the Sunday before Easter. The feast commemorates Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, an event mentioned in all four Canonical Gospels. ....

, and hairs from this cross (or contact with a donkey) were used as folk remedies to cure illness, including measles
Measles
Measles, also known as rubeola or morbilli, is an infection of the respiratory system caused by a virus, specifically a paramyxovirus of the genus Morbillivirus. Morbilliviruses, like other paramyxoviruses, are enveloped, single-stranded, negative-sense RNA viruses...

 and whooping cough. Around 1400 AD, one physician listed riding backwards on a donkey as a cure for scorpion
Scorpion
Scorpions are predatory arthropod animals of the order Scorpiones within the class Arachnida. They have eight legs and are easily recognized by the pair of grasping claws and the narrow, segmented tail, often carried in a characteristic forward curve over the back, ending with a venomous stinger...

 stings. As well as being associated with Jesus, the donkey was also the symbol of the Egyptian god Ra
Ra
Ra is the ancient Egyptian sun god. By the Fifth Dynasty he had become a major deity in ancient Egyptian religion, identified primarily with the mid-day sun...

 and the Greek god Dionysus
Dionysus
Dionysus was the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness and ecstasy in Greek mythology. His name in Linear B tablets shows he was worshipped from c. 1500—1100 BC by Mycenean Greeks: other traces of Dionysian-type cult have been found in ancient Minoan Crete...

.

Donkeys also appear repeatedly in the Hindu
Hindu
Hindu refers to an identity associated with the philosophical, religious and cultural systems that are indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. As used in the Constitution of India, the word "Hindu" is also attributed to all persons professing any Indian religion...

 and Islam
Islam
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

ic religions. In Hinduism, the goddess Kalaratri's vahana
Vahana
Vāhana denotes the being, typically an animal or mythical entity, a particular deva is said to use as a vehicle. In this capacity, the vāhana is often called the deity's mount. Upon the partnership between the deva and his vāhana is woven much iconography and mythology...

 (vehicle) is a donkey. Muhammad
Muhammad
Muhammad |ligature]] at U+FDF4 ;Arabic pronunciation varies regionally; the first vowel ranges from ~~; the second and the last vowel: ~~~. There are dialects which have no stress. In Egypt, it is pronounced not in religious contexts...

, the prophet of Islam
Islam
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

 said that dogs and donkeys, if they pass in front of men in prayer, will void or nullify that prayer. He also said that "when you hear the braying of donkeys, seek Refuge with Allah from Satan
Satan
Satan , "the opposer", is the title of various entities, both human and divine, who challenge the faith of humans in the Hebrew Bible...

 for (their braying indicates) that they have seen a devil."
Donkeys also appear multiple times in Indian folklore as the subject of stories in both the Hitopadesha
Hitopadesha
Hitopadesha is a collection of Sanskrit fables in prose and verse written in the 12 century C.E. It is an independent treatment of the Panchatantra...

 and the Panchatantra
Panchatantra
The Panchatantra is an ancient Indian inter-related collection of animal fables in verse and prose, in a frame story format. The original Sanskrit work, which some scholars believe was composed in the 3rd century BCE, is attributed to Vishnu Sharma...

.

In the Jewish religion, donkeys are considered avi avot hatuma or the ultimate impure animal. They are considered doubly "impure
Unclean animals
Unclean animals, in some religions, are animals whose consumption or handling is labeled a taboo. According to these religion's dogmas, persons who handle such animals may need to purify themselves to get rid of their uncleanness.-Judaism:...

", as they are both non-ruminants and non-cloven hoofed. However, they are the only impure animal that is falls under the mitzvah
Mitzvah
The primary meaning of the Hebrew word refers to precepts and commandments as commanded by God...

 (commandment) of firstborn consecration that also applies to humans and pure animals. In Jewish Oral Tradition
Talmud
The Talmud is a central text of mainstream Judaism. It takes the form of a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history....

, the son of David
Messiah
A messiah is a redeemer figure expected or foretold in one form or another by a religion. Slightly more widely, a messiah is any redeemer figure. Messianic beliefs or theories generally relate to eschatological improvement of the state of humanity or the world, in other words the World to...

 was prophesied as riding on a donkey if the tribes of Israel are undeserving of redemption. In contemporary Israel
Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

, the term "Messiah's Donkey
The Messiah's Donkey
In Jewish tradition, The Messiah's Donkey refers to the donkey upon which the Messiah will arrive to redeem the world at the end of days...

" (Chamoro Shel Mashiach חמורו של משיח) stands at the center of a controversial religious-political doctrine, under which it was the Heavenly-imposed "task" of secular Zionists to build up a Jewish State
Jewish state
A homeland for the Jewish people was an idea that rose to the fore in the 19th century in the wake of growing anti-Semitism and Jewish assimilation. Jewish emancipation in Europe paved the way for two ideological solutions to the Jewish Question: cultural assimilation, as envisaged by Moses...

, but once the state is established they are fated to give place to the Religious who are ordained to lead the state. The secularists in this analogy are "The Donkey" while the religious who are fated to supplant them are a collective "Messiach". A book on the subject, published in 1998 by the militant secularist Sefi Rechlevsky, aroused a major controversy in the Israeli public opinion.

Literature and film

Donkeys hold a significant place in literature, especially in Western cultures. The original representations of donkeys in Western literature come mainly from the Bible
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

 and Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

. Donkeys were represented in a fairly negative form by the Greeks, but perceptions later changed, partially due to donkeys becoming increasingly symbolically connected to Christianity. Donkeys were found in the works of Homer
Homer
In the Western classical tradition Homer , is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.When he lived is...

, Aesop
Aesop
Aesop was a Greek writer credited with a number of popular fables. Older spellings of his name have included Esop and Isope. Although his existence remains uncertain and no writings by him survive, numerous tales credited to him were gathered across the centuries and in many languages in a...

 and Apuleius
Apuleius
Apuleius was a Latin prose writer. He was a Berber, from Madaurus . He studied Platonist philosophy in Athens; travelled to Italy, Asia Minor and Egypt; and was an initiate in several cults or mysteries. The most famous incident in his life was when he was accused of using magic to gain the...

, where they were generally portrayed as stupid and stubborn, or servile at best, and generally represented the lower class. They were often contrasted with horses, which were seen as powerful and beautiful. Aesop's The Ass in the Lion Skin, representational of the almost 20 of his fables that portray donkeys, shows the donkey as a fool. Apuleius's The Golden Ass
The Golden Ass
The Metamorphoses of Apuleius, which St. Augustine referred to as The Golden Ass , is the only Latin novel to survive in its entirety....

(160 AD), where the narrator is turned into a donkey, is also notable for its portrayal of donkeys as stubborn, foolish, wicked and lowly. This work had a large influence on the portrayal of donkeys in later cultures, including medieval and renaissance Europe. During this time, donkeys continued to be shown as stupid, clumsy and slow. Shakespere popularized the use of the word "ass" as an insult meaning stupid or clownish in many of his plays, including Bottom's appearance in A Midsummer Night's Dream
A Midsummer Night's Dream
A Midsummer Night's Dream is a play that was written by William Shakespeare. It is believed to have been written between 1590 and 1596. It portrays the events surrounding the marriage of the Duke of Athens, Theseus, and the Queen of the Amazons, Hippolyta...

(1600). In contrast, a few years later, Cervantes
Cervantes
-People:*Alfonso J. Cervantes , mayor of St. Louis, Missouri*Francisco Cervantes de Salazar, 16th-century man of letters*Ignacio Cervantes, Cuban composer*Jorge Cervantes, a world-renowned expert on indoor, outdoor, and greenhouse cannabis cultivation...

' Don Quixote shows a more positive slant on the donkey, portraying them as steady and loyal companions. This difference is possibly due to donkeys being an important aspect of many Spaniards' lives at this point in time.

In contrast to Grecian works, donkeys were portrayed in Biblical works as symbols of service, suffering, peace and humility, most notably in their inclusion in the New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

 Nativity
Nativity
-The birth of Jesus:* Nativity of Jesus, the Gospel story of the birth of Jesus* Nativity of Jesus in art, paintings depicting the Nativity* Nativity play, a dramatic production about the Nativity...

 narrative. Donkeys are also associated with the theme of wisdom in the Old Testament
Old Testament
The Old Testament, of which Christians hold different views, is a Christian term for the religious writings of ancient Israel held sacred and inspired by Christians which overlaps with the 24-book canon of the Masoretic Text of Judaism...

 story of Balaam
Balaam
Balaam is a diviner in the Torah, his story occurring towards the end of the Book of Numbers. The etymology of his name is uncertain, and discussed below. Every ancient reference to Balaam considers him a non-Israelite, a prophet, and the son of Beor, though Beor is not so clearly identified...

's ass, and are seen in a positive light through the story of Jesus
Jesus
Jesus of Nazareth , commonly referred to as Jesus Christ or simply as Jesus or Christ, is the central figure of Christianity...

 riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. By the 19th century, the donkey was beginning to be seen with more favoritism by popular authors. William Wordsworth
William Wordsworth
William Wordsworth was a major English Romantic poet who, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped to launch the Romantic Age in English literature with the 1798 joint publication Lyrical Ballads....

 portrayed the donkey as loyal and patient in his 1819 poem Peter Bell
Peter Bell
-People:* Peter Hansborough Bell , Governor of Texas, U.S. representative* Peter Bell , Australian rules footballer, played for Fremantle and North Melbourne* Peter R...

, using the donkey as a Christian symbol. However, in Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson was a Scottish novelist, poet, essayist and travel writer. His best-known books include Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde....

's 1879 Travels with a Donkey, the animal is seen by the narrator as no more than a stubborn beast of burden. Sympathetic portrayals return in Juan Ramon Jimenez
Juan Ramón Jiménez
Juan Ramón Jiménez Mantecón was a Spanish poet, a prolific writer who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1956. One of Jiménez's most important contributions to modern poetry was his advocacy of the French concept of "pure poetry."-Biography:Jiménez was born in Moguer, near Huelva, in...

's Platero and I and the melancholy Eeyore
Eeyore
Eeyore is a character in the Winnie-the-Pooh books by A. A. Milne. He is generally characterized as a pessimistic, gloomy, depressed, anhedonic, old grey stuffed donkey who is a friend of the title character, Winnie-the-Pooh....

 in Winnie the Pooh (first release in 1926) is arguably the most famous donkey in Western literature. Donkeys continue to appear in literature during the 20th century, including in George Orwell
George Orwell
Eric Arthur Blair , better known by his pen name George Orwell, was an English author and journalist...

's 1951 Animal Farm
Animal Farm
Animal Farm is an allegorical novella by George Orwell published in England on 17 August 1945. According to Orwell, the book reflects events leading up to and during the Stalin era before World War II...

, where Benjamin
Benjamin (Animal Farm)
Benjamin is a character in George Orwell's novella Animal Farm. He is the oldest of the animals and is alive in the last scene of the novel...

 the donkey is portrayed as resilient and loyal. Portrayals at this time were not always positive however, as with the well-meaning but easily manipulated donkey Puzzle in C. S. Lewis
C. S. Lewis
Clive Staples Lewis , commonly referred to as C. S. Lewis and known to his friends and family as "Jack", was a novelist, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian and Christian apologist from Belfast, Ireland...

's 1956 The Last Battle
The Last Battle
The Last Battle is the seventh and final novel in The Chronicles of Narnia series by C. S. Lewis. It won the prestigious Carnegie Medal in Literature in 1956.-Plot summary:In The Last Battle, Lewis brings The Chronicles of Narnia to an end...

. They also began to appear in film at this time, including the 1940 Disney film
Film
A film, also called a movie or motion picture, is a series of still or moving images. It is produced by recording photographic images with cameras, or by creating images using animation techniques or visual effects...

 Fantasia
Fantasia (film)
Fantasia is a 1940 American animated film produced by Walt Disney and released by Walt Disney Productions. The third feature in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series, the film consists of eight animated segments set to pieces of classical music conducted by Leopold Stokowski, seven of which are...

, where the donkey is portrayed as a slapstick character who participates in a social faux pas
Faux pas
A faux pas is a violation of accepted social norms . Faux pas vary widely from culture to culture, and what is considered good manners in one culture can be considered a faux pas in another...

 with Bacchus
Bacchus
Bacchus is the Roman name for Dionysus, the god of wine and intoxication.Bacchus can also refer to:* Temple of Bacchus, a Roman temple at a large classical antiquity complex in Baalbek, Lebanon...

 and is punished by Zeus
Zeus
In the ancient Greek religion, Zeus was the "Father of Gods and men" who ruled the Olympians of Mount Olympus as a father ruled the family. He was the god of sky and thunder in Greek mythology. His Roman counterpart is Jupiter and his Etruscan counterpart is Tinia.Zeus was the child of Cronus...

. A donkey is the main character in the 1966 film Au hasard Balthazar
Au hasard Balthazar
Au hasard Balthazar, , also known as Balthazar, is a 1966 French film directed by Robert Bresson, starring Anne Wiazemsky.-Plot:...

by Robert Bresson
Robert Bresson
-Life and career:Bresson was born at Bromont-Lamothe, Puy-de-Dôme, the son of Marie-Élisabeth and Léon Bresson. Little is known of his early life and the year of his birth, 1901 or 1907, varies depending on the source. He was educated at Lycée Lakanal in Sceaux, Hauts-de-Seine, close to Paris, and...

, and, though a true donkey, follows a life path of Christian symbolism. A donkey (named, aptly, Donkey
Donkey (Shrek)
Donkey is a fictional talking donkey from the Shrek series of films and he serves as the deuteragonist of the films, voiced by Eddie Murphy. The character has also featured in the original story Shrek!...

 and voiced by Eddie Murphy
Eddie Murphy
Edward Regan "Eddie" Murphy is an American stand-up comedian, actor, writer, singer, director, and musician....

) also appears as a main character in the 2000's Shrek franchise.

Colloquialisms, proverbs and insults

Many cultures have colloquialisms and proverbs that include donkeys or asses. American ones include "better a donkey that carries me than a horse that throws me", "a donkey looks beautiful to a donkey", and "a donkey is but a donkey though laden with gold", among others. British phrases include "to talk the hind legs off a donkey", used to describe someone talking excessively and generally persuasively. Donkeys are the animals seen most often in Greek proverbs, including such statements of fatalistic resignation as "the donkey lets the rain soak him". French philosopher Jean Buridan
Jean Buridan
Jean Buridan was a French priest who sowed the seeds of the Copernican revolution in Europe. Although he was one of the most famous and influential philosophers of the late Middle Ages, he is today among the least well known...

 constructed the paradox called Buridan's ass
Buridan's ass
Buridan's ass is an illustration of a paradox in philosophy in the conception of free will.It refers to a hypothetical situation wherein an ass is placed precisely midway between a stack of hay and a pail of water...

, in which a donkey, placed exactly midway between water and food, would die of hunger a thirst because he could not find a reason to choose one of the options over the other, and so would never make a decision. Italy also has several phrases regarding donkeys, including "put your money in the ass of a donkey and they'll call him sir" (meaning, if you're rich, you'll get respect) and "women, donkeys and goats all have heads" (meaning, women are as stubborn as donkeys and goats).

The words "donkey" and "ass" (or translations thereof) have come to have derogatory or insulting meaning in several languages, and are generally used to mean someone who is obstinate, stupid or silly, In football
Football (soccer)
Association football, more commonly known as football or soccer, is a sport played between two teams of eleven players with a spherical ball...

, especially in the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

, a player who is considered unskilful is often dubbed a "donkey", and the term has a similar connotation in poker
Poker
Poker is a family of card games that share betting rules and usually hand rankings. Poker games differ in how the cards are dealt, how hands may be formed, whether the high or low hand wins the pot in a showdown , limits on bet sizes, and how many rounds of betting are allowed.In most modern poker...

. In the US, the slang terms "dumbass" and "jackass" are used to refer to someone considered stupid.

Politics

Donkeys feature in political systems, symbols and terminology in many areas of the world. A "donkey vote
Donkey vote
Donkey voters vote the way candidates appear on the ballot paper. Sometimes the term "donkey vote" is incorrectly used to refer to an informal vote although this use is not included in major dictionaries....

" is a vote that simply writes down preferences in the order of the candidates (1 at the top, then 2, and so on), and is most often seen in countries with preferential voting
Preferential voting
Preferential voting is a type of ballot structure used in several electoral systems in which voters rank candidates in order of relative preference. For example, the voter may select their first choice as '1', their second preference a '2', and so on...

 and compulsory voting
Compulsory voting
Compulsory voting is a system in which electors are obliged to vote in elections or attend a polling place on voting day. If an eligible voter does not attend a polling place, he or she may be subject to punitive measures such as fines, community service, or perhaps imprisonment if fines are unpaid...

 such as Australia. The donkey is a common symbol of the Democratic Party of the United States, originating in a cartoon
Cartoon
A cartoon is a form of two-dimensional illustrated visual art. While the specific definition has changed over time, modern usage refers to a typically non-realistic or semi-realistic drawing or painting intended for satire, caricature, or humor, or to the artistic style of such works...

 by Thomas Nast
Thomas Nast
Thomas Nast was a German-born American caricaturist and editorial cartoonist who is considered to be the "Father of the American Cartoon". He was the scourge of Boss Tweed and the Tammany Hall machine...

 of Harper's Weekly
Harper's Weekly
Harper's Weekly was an American political magazine based in New York City. Published by Harper & Brothers from 1857 until 1916, it featured foreign and domestic news, fiction, essays on many subjects, and humor...

. The "ruc català" or "burro català" (Catalan donkey
Catalan donkey
-History:The Catalan donkey is a subspecies of the donkeys from which the donkeys of the middle east and Europe originated. The Catalan donkey is related to the donkey of Mallorca and the zamorano-llionés donkey...

) is a relatively recent symbol of Catalonia
Catalan symbols
The oldest Catalan symbol is the Coat of arms of Catalonia, one of the oldest coats of arms in Europe.. It dates back to the 9th century, according to a legend that says that the four red bars are the result of Charles the Bald, known also as Charles II, king of West Francia, smearing four...

. It was chosen when the need was felt in Catalonia
Catalonia
Catalonia is an autonomous community in northeastern Spain, with the official status of a "nationality" of Spain. Catalonia comprises four provinces: Barcelona, Girona, Lleida, and Tarragona. Its capital and largest city is Barcelona. Catalonia covers an area of 32,114 km² and has an...

 to produce something genuinely Catalan to oppose to the Spanish Osborne bull. The bull was perceived by Catalans as a centralistic symbol of Castile
Castile (historical region)
A former kingdom, Castile gradually merged with its neighbours to become the Crown of Castile and later the Kingdom of Spain when united with the Crown of Aragon and the Kingdom of Navarre...

, alien to their culture.

See also

  • Asses' milk
  • Burro Racing
  • Exploding donkey
  • Jennet
    Jennet
    A Jennet or Spanish Jennet was a small Spanish horse. It was noted for a smooth naturally ambling gait, compact and well-muscled build, and a good disposition...

    , a type of medieval horse
  • Onolatry
    Onolatry
    Onolatry is worship of the donkey: old Oriental and African worship attributed also to the Jewish people who travelled in the desert.During the Imperial Rome, the charge of onolatry was used by the pagans to taunt the first Christians and Jews. A famous example of this is the Alexamenos...

  • Ponui donkey
    Ponui donkey
    Ponui donkey has two related meanings:* a feral herd of donkeys established on Ponui Island, New Zealand. The herd is descended from three individuals released in the 1880s.* a breed of donkey derived from this herd, also known as New Zealand donkeys....

  • Safe Haven for Donkeys in the Holy Land
    Safe Haven for Donkeys in the Holy Land
    Safe Haven for Donkeys in the Holy Land is a British charity that cares for working and abandoned donkeys in Israel and the Palestinian Territories....


External links

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