Donkey (Equus asinus)

Class: Mammalia
Order: Perissodactyla
Family:    Equidae.
Size:    Height: 9 to 16.2 hands (1 hand = 4 inches/10 cm)
Weight: Up to 950 pounds (430 kg)
Diet: Grasses, herbs and bushes
Distribution: North America, Europe, Africa, Australia and Asia
Young:  1 foal per year
Animal Predators:  Unknown
IUCN Status: No special status 
Terms: Young:  Foal   Female: Jennet or Jenny   Male: Jack  
Lifespan: 25 to 30 years in the wild and 40 to 50 years in captivity



       Donkeys were first domesticated about 6,000 years ago.

       In ancient Egypt, it was once considered a status symbol to own donkeys.

       The wild donkey was first introduced to America by Spaniards in the 1500s.

       The scientific name is Latin, meaning Equus (horse) and asinus (ass). 

       Other names for the donkey are burro (Spanish) or ass.


Donkeys have long ears, which provide them with excellent hearing.  There are many different colours and patterns found on donkeys, but the most common colour for donkeys are grey. Donkeys have only five lumbar vertebrae. Their tail is tufted, more like that of a cow than the flowing tail found on a horse.



Wild donkeys originated in the deserts of Africa and were brought by travelers to nearly every area of the world. Prospectors used them during the gold rush of the 1800s, and many donkeys outlived their owners, who sometimes succumbed to the harsh and dry weather of the desert. Some were set free after the gold rush came to a close, creating herds of feral donkeys throughout the deserts of the South West. 


Feeding Habits

Donkeys eat mainly eat grasses, herbs and bushes. They have muscular lips with which they grab a plant, then tear it loose with their teeth. 



Female donkeys generally have one foal per year, and go through a gestation period of 12 months. At birth, foals weigh from 19 to 30 pounds (8.6 to 13.6 kg) and can stand and nurse within about 30 minutes of birth. At about six to eight months of age, foals are weaned, but have begun to graze well before that time. Mothers are extremely protective of their offspring and will attack any animal that threatens. Females do not usually reproduce until they are at least two years of age. 



Like horses, donkeys are social animals that travel in herds. Unlike horses, they do not spook and run when frightened. Instead, their natural instinct is to freeze, or to run only a short distance and then turn to see what the disturbance was. They are easily able to survive in their desert homes because of their ability to survive a loss of as much as 30 percent water from their body weight without perishing, unlike humans who need immediate attention if they lose 10 percent water from their body weight. As well, donkeys can replenish the loss in five minutes of drinking water, while a human needs to drink water on and off for an entire day. Donkeys mix easily with other types of animals such as sheep, cows, llamas, horses and goats, and have even been known to protect smaller animals from predators. Because donkeys are calm and patient by nature, they are sometimes used instead of horses in recreational riding programs for children and handicapped people.



While donkeys are still used as beasts of burden, today they are also used as companions for newly weaned foals and nervous or injured animals. The Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act was put into place in 1971 to protect and manage equines on public lands. Each year, the Bureau of Land Management captures 9,000 horses and donkeys to put up for adoption under the National Wild Horse and Burro Program. The IUCN lists two separate species, Equus africanus, the African Wild Ass and Equus hemionus, the Asian Wild Ass. The African Wild Ass is listed as Critically Endangered, while the Asian Wild Ass is listed as Vulnerable.