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Scientific classification

The donkey, ass or African ass (Equus asinus) is a domesticated animal of the horse family, Equidae. The wild ancestors of the donkey are African.

Table of contents
1 Appearance
2 Relationship to horses
3 Economic use
4 Cultural aspects
5 Etymology of the name
6 Symbolism with Democratic Party
7 External links


Donkeys are typical equids, generally smaller than the domestic horse, though mammoth jacks can be as large as 17 hands (170cm at the shoulder). They come in a variety of sizes and breeds just like the horse family, ranging in size from miniatures, standard (pony size) to mammoth (full grown horse sizes). They have long ears and a "broomtail" similar to a cow's tail.

Relationship to horses

A male donkey (jackass or jack) can be crossed with a female horse to produce a mule and a male horse crossed with a female donkey (jennet or jenny) to produce a hinny. These hybrids are almost always sterile due to the fact that horses have 64 chromosomes and donkeys have 62, producing offspring with 63 chromosomes.

Economic use

From before the dawn of recorded history, donkeys have been used in Europe and western Asia to carry loads, pull carts, and carry riders. Though not as fast as a horse, they are long-lived, cheaper to maintain than horses, have great endurance, and are agile on poor tracks. They remain of crucial economic importance in many developing countries.

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. Although formal studies of their behaviour and cognition are rather limited, donkeys appear to be quite intelligent, cautious, friendly, playful, and eager to learn. Once you have earned their confidence they can be willing and companionable partners 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.

Cultural aspects

The long history of human use of donkeys means that there is a rich store of cultural references to them, including:

Etymology of the name

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; 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 (/æs/ > /ɑ:s/ and /ɑ:rs/ > /ɑ:s/). The /ɑ:s/ pronunciation of "ass" was eventually restored to /æs/ in order to reserve the distinction, but not without the curious consequence of American English losing the word "arse" entirely and handing over its meaning to "ass".

Symbolism with Democratic Party

The donkey has also been a long-time symbol of the United States Democratic Party.

External links

The Donkey Sanctuary, Sidmouth, UK
National Association of Breeders of the Andaluz Donkey, Spain