Donkeys were first domesticated around 5,000 years ago as beasts of burden and companions, most likely in Egypt or Mesopotamia. There are about 41 million donkeys in the world today; China has the most with 11 million, followed by Pakistan, Ethiopia, and Mexico.
Donkeys vary considerably in size, depending on breed and management. The height at the withers ranges from 7.3 hands (31 inches or 79 cm) to 15.3 hands (63 inches or 160 cm), and they weigh from 80 to 480 kg (180 to 1,060 lb.). Working donkeys in the poorest countries have a life expectancy of 12 to 15 years; and in more prosperous countries, they may have a lifespan of 30 to 50 years.
Donkeys have large ears with excellent hearing, and may help cool the donkey's blood. Donkeys can defend themselves by biting, striking with the front hooves or kicking with the hind legs.
A male donkey is called a jack, a female is a jenny or jennet; a young donkey is a foal.
A jennet 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. About 1.7 percent of donkey pregnancies result in twins; both foals survive about 14 percent of the time.
Donkeys can interbreed with other equines and are commonly interbred with horses. The hybrid between a jack and a mare (Female horse) is a mule, valued as a working and riding animal in many countries. The hybrid between a stallion (male Horse) and a jennet is a hinny, and is less common. Like other inter-species hybrids, mules and hinnies are usually sterile and are incapable of siring foals. Donkeys can also breed with zebras in which the offspring is called a Zonkey, Zebroid, Zebrass, or Zedonk.
In general donkeys are quite intelligent, cautious, friendly, playful, and eager to learn. Donkeys have a notorious reputation for stubbornness, but this has been attributed to a very strong sense of self preservation. 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 may be willing partners and very dependable in work.
Donkey ColorsDonkeys come in the following colors: