The donkey or ass is a domesticated member of the horse family.
The wild ancestor of the donkey is the African wild ass, E. africanus.
Donkeys originated in the hilly, undulating deserts of northern Africa and the Arabian peninsula and are well-adapted for life in the desert.
They were first domesticated around 3000 BC.
By the end of the 4th millennium BC, the donkey had spread to Southwest Asia.
The first donkeys came to the Americas on ships of the Second Voyage of Christopher Columbus, and were landed at Hispaniola in 1495.
By the Gold Rush years of the 19th century, the burro was the beast of burden of choice of early prospectors in the western United States. With the end of the placer mining boom, many of them escaped or were abandoned, and a feral population established itself.
Today, there are more than 40 million donkeys in the world.
Of the more than 40 million donkeys in the world, about 96% are in underdeveloped countries, where they are used principally as pack animals or for draught work in transport or agriculture.
After human labour, the donkey is the cheapest form of agricultural power. They may also be ridden, or used for threshing, raising water, milling and other work.
In developed countries where their use as beasts of burden has disappeared, donkeys are used to sire mules, to guard sheep, for donkey rides for children or tourists, and as pets.
While domesticated species are increasing in numbers, the African wild ass is an endangered species.
Working donkeys in the poorest countries have a life expectancy of 12 to 15 years – in more prosperous countries, they may have a lifespan of 30 to 50 years.
The record for the oldest documented age for a donkey belongs to Suzy, who reached 54 years old in 2002. Suzy was owned by Beth Augusta Menczer (USA) and lived in Glenwood, New Mexico, USA.
Donkeys resemble horses and are characterized by their large head, long ears, and cow-like tail.
They vary considerably in size, depending on breed and management. The height at the withers ranges from 7.3 to 15.3 hands (79 to 160 cm / 31 to 63 inches), and the weight from 80 to 480 kg (180 to 1,060 lb).
Donkeys today come in all colors and coat texture. The most common coat colour is grey, followed by brown and then black, roan and broken coloured donkeys (a combination of brown and white or black and white markings) and the rarest colour is pure white.
Although slower than horses, donkeys are surefooted and can carry heavy loads over rough terrain.
Donkeys have a notorious reputation for stubbornness, but this has been attributed to a much stronger sense of self-preservation than exhibited by horses.
Although formal studies of their behaviour and cognition are rather limited, donkeys appear to be quite intelligent, cautious, friendly, playful, and eager to learn.
A jenny is normally pregnant for about 12 months, though the gestation period varies from 11 to 14 months, and usually gives birth to a single foal. Births of twins are rare, though less so than in horses.
The most appropriate feed for donkeys is straw, hay and grass in moderation. Although you may not think it, horse and donkey dietary requirements are very different. Donkeys love to graze all day but will eat everything in sight if they can, so if you’re looking after donkeys, it’s important to feed them a healthy diet.
On tropical islands where plants evolved in the absence of large mammalian herbivores, feral donkeys pose a real threat of extinction for native plants. Efforts to remove donkeys from habitats where they are not native has generated a great deal of controversy, pitting animal rights groups against biologists and other conservation groups who see donkeys as an alien species and a threat to biodiversity conservation.
At one time, the synonym “ass” was the more common term for the donkey.
The first recorded use of word “donkey” was in either 1784 or 1785. While the word ass has cognates in most other Indo-European languages, donkey is an etymologically obscure word for which no credible cognate has been identified.
A male donkey is called a jack, a female a jennet or jenny, and a baby a colt.
In the western United States, a donkey is often called a burro.
There are many cultural references to donkeys, in myth, folklore and religion, in language and in literature.
Donkeys are mentioned many times in the Bible, beginning in the first book and continuing through both Old and New Testaments, so they became part of Judeo-Christian tradition.
According to Old Testament prophecy, the Messiah is said to arrive on a donkey: “Behold, your King is coming to you – He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey!” (Zechariah 9:9).
According to the New Testament, this prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on the animal (Matthew 21:4-7, John 12:14-15).
With the rise of Christianity, some believers came to see the cross-shaped marking present on donkeys’ backs and shoulders as a symbol of the animal’s bearing Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm
During the Middle Ages, Europeans used hairs from this cross (or contact with a donkey) as folk remedies to treat illness, including measles and whooping cough.
Around 1400 AD, one physician listed riding backwards on a donkey as a cure for scorpion stings.
The longest line of donkeys consisted of 65 donkeys that were pulling a cart together in Grossouvre, France, on 16 June 2012.
Largest collection of donkey related items belongs Delores DeJohn (USA). She has 690 donkey-related items that she has collected since 1976.