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What is a Zonkey?

By Angie Bates
Updated May 21, 2024
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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).

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is a Zonkey?

A Zonkey is a hybrid animal resulting from the crossbreeding of a zebra and a donkey. Typically, the zebra is the sire (male) and the donkey is the dam (female). Zonkeys inherit physical characteristics from both parents, such as the sturdy body of a donkey and the distinctive striped pattern of a zebra, although the stripes are usually less prominent than those of a purebred zebra.

Can Zonkeys reproduce?

Zonkeys are generally sterile due to the mismatch of chromosomes inherited from their parents—zebras have 32 to 46 chromosomes depending on the species, while donkeys have 62. This chromosomal difference usually prevents zonkeys from producing offspring. Sterility is common in many hybrid animals, similar to mules, which are the offspring of a horse and a donkey.

Where do Zonkeys typically live?

Zonkeys are not found in the wild as they are the product of human-mediated breeding. They are most commonly found in zoos, wildlife sanctuaries, and sometimes in private collections. Their habitats are designed to mimic the natural environment of their parent species, providing a blend of grassland and savanna-like conditions that both zebras and donkeys can thrive in.

What is the purpose of breeding Zonkeys?

Breeding Zonkeys is often done for educational purposes, to attract visitors to zoos, or for private exotic animal collectors. They are also bred for their unique appearance and sometimes for research into genetics and the reproductive biology of hybrid animals. However, there is no significant agricultural or practical purpose for breeding zonkeys, as they are typically sterile and not used for work or production.

Are Zonkeys endangered or protected?

As Zonkeys are not a natural species but rather a human-created hybrid, they do not have a conservation status like wild species do. They are not considered endangered since they can be bred specifically when desired. However, the welfare of zonkeys, like all animals in captivity, is subject to animal protection laws and ethical standards for treatment.

How do Zonkeys behave compared to their parent species?

Zonkeys often exhibit a blend of behaviors from both zebras and donkeys. They may have the social and friendly nature of donkeys while also displaying the alertness and wariness of zebras. The temperament of a zonkey can vary widely, with some being more docile like donkeys and others more skittish like zebras. Their behavior can also be influenced by their environment and handling.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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