The donkey or ass, Equus asinus, is a domesticated animal of the horse family, Equidae. The donkey is an amusing and useful animal to have around. They were beasts of burden for us for hundreds of years. They are also rather beautiful animals known to have a stubborn streak. Either way they are marvelous creatures, but as with any animal you must look after and love them.
Most wild donkeys are between 102 cm (10 hands) and 142 cm (14 hands) in length. Domestic donkeys stand under 91 cm (9 hands) to over 142 cm (over 14 hands) tall. The Andalucian-Cordobesan breed of southern Spain can reach up to 16 hands high. Donkeys are adapted to marginal desert lands, and have many traits that are unique to the species as a result. They need less food than horses. Overfed donkeys can suffer from a disease called Laminitis. Unlike horse fur, donkey fur is not waterproof, and so they must have shelter when it rains. Wild donkeys live separated from each other, unlike tight wild horse herds. Donkeys have developed very loud voices, which can be heard for over three kilometers, to keep in contact with other donkeys of their herd over the wide spaces of the desert. Donkeys have larger ears than horses to hear the distant calls of fellow donkeys, and to help cool the donkey's blood. Donkeys' tough digestive system can break down inedible vegetation and extract moisture from food more efficiently. Donkeys can defend themselves with a powerful kick of their hind legs.
Donkey in Santiago,Chile
The word donkey is one of the most etymologically obscure in the English language. Until quite recent times, the standard word was ass, which has clear cognates in most other Indo-European languages. No credible cognate for donkey has yet been identified, though it is possible that it is a diminutive of dun (dull greyish-brown), a typical donkey colour; and originally, "donkey" was pronounced to rhyme with monkey.
In the late 18th century, the word donkey started to replace ass, almost certainly to avoid confusion with the word arse, which, due to sound changes that had affected the language, had come to be pronounced the same way.
The incorporation of horse into sawhorse, referring to a wooden frame which supports work in progress, can be compared to the donkey-related etymology of the English word easel, from the Dutch ezel and German Esel. In both languages, the word refers to both the animal, and to an easel (as in painter's easel) as well. THE MALE DONKEY IS A JACK AND THE FEMALE IS A JENNET
It is commonly believed that the ancestor of the modern donkey is the Nubian subspecies of African wild ass, a medium sized donkey with a grey and white coat, strips on back and legs and a tall, upright mane with a black tip. The African Wild Ass was domesticated around 4,000 B.C. The donkey became an important pack animal for people living in the Egyptian and Nubian regions as they can easily carry 20% to 30% of their own body weight and can also be used as a farming and dairy animal. By 1800 B.C., the ass had reached the Middle East where the trading city of Damascus was referred to as the “City of Asses” in cuneiform texts. Syria produced at least three breeds of donkeys, including a saddle breed with a graceful, easy gait. These were favored by women.
For the Greeks, the donkey was associated with the Syrian god of wine, Dionysus. In fact, the Disney film Fantasia (1940) features a Dionysian character on a donkey. The Romans also valued the ass and would use it as a sacrificial animal.
In 1495, the ass first appeared in the New World. The four males and two females brought by Christopher Columbus gave birth to the mules which the Conquistadors rode as they explored the Americas. Shortly after America won her independence, President George Washington imported the first mammoth jackstock into the young country. Because the Jack donkeys in the New World lacked the size and strength he required to produce quality work mules, he imported donkeys from Spain and France, some standing over 16 hands tall. One of the donkeys Washington received from the Marquis de Lafayette named “Knight of Malta" stood only 14 hands and was regarded as a great disappointment. Viewing this donkey as unfit for producing mules, Washington instead bred The Knight to his Jennets and, in doing so, created an American line of Mammoth Jackstock.
Despite these early appearances of donkeys in American society, the donkey did not find widespread favor in America until the miners and gold prospectors of the 1800s. Miners preferred this animal due to its ability to carry tools, supplies, and ore. Their sociable disposition and fondness for human companionship allowed the miners to lead their donkeys without ropes. They simply followed behind their master. Sadly, with the introduction of the steam train, these donkeys lost their jobs and many were turned loose into the American deserts. Descendents of these donkeys can still be seen roaming the Southwest in herds to this day.
By the early Twentieth Century, the donkey became more of a pet than a work animal. This is best portrayed by the appearance of the miniature donkey in 1929. Robert Green imported miniature donkeys to the United States and was a lifetime advocator of the breed. Mr. Green is perhaps best quoted when he said “Miniature Donkeys possess the affectionate nature of a Newfoundland, the resignation of a cow, the durability of a mule, the courage of a tiger, and the intellectual capability only slightly inferior to man's.” Standing only 32-40 inches, many families were quick to recognize the potential these tiny equines possessed as pets and companions for their children.
Although, the donkey fell from public notice and became viewed as a comical, stubborn beast who was considered “cute” at best, the donkey has recently regained some popularity in North America as a mount, for pulling wagons, and even as a guard animal. Some standard species are ideal for guarding herds of sheep against predators since most donkeys have a natural aversion to canines and will keep them away from the herd.
Donkeys have a reputation for stubbornness, but this is due to some handlers' misinterpretation of their highly-developed sense of self preservation. It is difficult to force or frighten a donkey into doing something it sees as contrary to its own best interest, as opposed to horses who are much more willing to, for example, go along a path with unsafe footing.
Although formal studies of their behaviour and cognition are rather limited, donkeys appear to be quite intelligent, cautious, friendly, playful, and eager to learn. They are many times fielded with horses due to a perceived calming effect on nervous horses. If a donkey is introduced to a mare and foal, the foal will often turn to the donkey for support after it has left its mother.
Once a person has earned their confidence they can be willing and companionable partners and very dependable in work and recreation. For this reason, they are now commonly kept as pets in countries where their use as beasts of burden has disappeared. They are also popular for giving rides to children in holiday resorts or other leisure contexts.
In prosperous countries, the welfare of donkeys both at home and abroad has recently become a concern, and a number of sanctuaries for retired donkeys have been set up.
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