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What is a Zonkey?

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  • Written By: Angie Bates
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 17 November 2016
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A zonkey is a cross between a female donkey, called a jennet, and a male zebra. Like mules, these hybrids are sterile. Zonkeys are purposefully bred in zoos and by private breeders, but zebras and donkeys may also breed without human interference and zonkeys do occasionally appear in the wild.

A zonkey looks much like a donkey, with the mother's general build and coloring, but also with strips from its zebra father. The legs are usually long and completely stripped, and the body may or may not have stripes underneath or blended with the donkey-colored coat. Usually the coat is a shade of brown or gray, while the striping is the basic black and white design seen in all zebras. Zonkeys are about 3.5–5 feet (1–1.5 m) tall and weight around 500–700 (227–318 kg) pounds. They can run about 35 miles per hour (54 km/hour).

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Though zonkeys are more frequently bred intentionally by private breeders or in zoos, occasionally zebras and donkeys will breed without human interference. Zebras and donkeys actually mate more easily than donkeys and horses, or zebras and horses, because zebras and donkeys share many of the same behavioral and courtship behaviors. For example, in 2010, a donkey gave birth to a zonkey at a wildlife park in Georgia without her keepers realizing she had mated with a male zebra. The zebras and donkeys were kept in the same enclosure, as with other similar wildlife parks, because the domesticated donkeys tended to have a calming effect on the wild zebras.

With sharper instincts, zonkeys are more cautious than donkeys or horses and are quicker to react to perceived danger because of their wild heritage. It generally takes at least four generations of breeding hybrids to each other to domesticate a breed which has even one wild parent. Until the breed is domesticated, it is considered a hybrid of its parent species. This is why zonkeys do not have their own scientific name and are referred to scientifically as a cross between the donkey, Equus asinus, and a zebra, Equus burchelli.

A zonkey can, however, be trained just as a donkey or a horse for work or show. Some open horse shows may even have a specific class for these hybrids. In the US, there are several breeders who specialize in hybrid equine crosses.

The generic term for a zebra hybrid is a Zebroid. Zonkeys are also called Zedonks, though the term Zedonks may be more often be applied to a zebra mother and donkey father. Zebras can also be crossed with horses, which results in a zorse.

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