Donkey

Equus Asinus

Last updated: February 18, 2021
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff

First domesticated 5,000 years ago!



Donkey Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Mammalia
Order
Perissodactyla
Family
Equidae
Genus
Equus
Scientific Name
Equus Asinus

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Donkey Conservation Status


Donkey Facts

Main Prey
Grass, Weeds, Vegetables
Distinctive Feature
Stocky body and hee-haw sounds
Habitat
Arid forests and deserts
Predators
Fox, Wolf, Lion
Diet
Herbivore
Average Litter Size
1
Lifestyle
  • Herd
Favorite Food
Grass
Type
Mammal
Slogan
First domesticated 5,000 years ago!

Donkey Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Grey
  • Black
Skin Type
Fur
Top Speed
15 mph
Lifespan
15 - 30 years
Weight
200kg - 258kg (441lbs - 570lbs)
Height
90cm - 130cm (35in - 51in)

Donkey Images

Click through all of our Donkey images in the gallery.

A donkey in Dana Biosphere Reserve, Jordan
Donkey grazing on grass
Donkey in grassland
African Donkey, Equus asinus, picture taken in Tanzania
Donkey foal in grassland
Donkey at Jimmys Farm

View all of the Donkey images!



While donkeys are thought to be stubborn, they are actually highly intelligent creatures that can form tight bonds with humans.

Donkeys are members of the horse family, although donkeys and horses represent two very different species. After domestication in Egypt and North Africa, where they were used for meat and milk, they evolved to become working beasts used to carry people or packages. They are slower than horses but are more surefooted. Historians believe that the domestication of donkeys increased the mobility of pastor cultures in the ancient world. Equipped with a social and calming nature, donkeys get along well with other domesticated mammals and can also be excellent companions for people with physical or mental disabilities.

5 Donkey Facts

  • Donkeys are often referred to as burros. In Spanish, the word burrito means ‘little donkey’, which also refers to the Mexican food that resembles the packs that donkeys carry.
  • Donkeys graze throughout the day and like a diet low in protein and high in fiber.
  • Female donkeys are called jennys, males are called jacks, and castrated males are called geldings.
  • Donkeys were commonly referred to as asses until about 1785 when the word slowly began falling out of use because of its pejorative context.
  • Startled donkeys will freeze or move a few steps away when they are scared to assess their situation instead of running away, a characteristic which gives them their undeserved reputation for being stubborn.

Donkey Scientific Name

The classification of these animals is within the family Equidae and the genus Equus – meaning horse in Latin. There are two main types of wild donkeys: Asian donkeys, whose range stretches from the Red Sea to Northern India and Tibet, resulting in several subspecies, and the African branch of the species. Among the Asian subspecies in the classification are Equus hemionus hemippus (Syrian Wild ass) and Equus hemionus khur (Indian wild ass).

All modern domesticated donkeys have the scientific name Equus africanus asinus and have descended from African wild asses located primarily in Northern Africa between the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara Desert.

Donkey Appearance and Behavior

These animals come in many different sizes and colors. Wild species grow to about 49 inches from hoof to shoulder and weigh about 551 lbs. Domesticated donkeys come in different sizes, depending on how they are bred. They are typically 36 inches to 48 inches from hoof to shoulder, weighing from 400 to 500 lbs. The Sicilian donkey is the smallest, reaching only 24 inches while the ass of Mallorca is about 62 inches. The Mammoth Stock, the largest domestic breed, is 56 inches from hoof to shoulder and weighs about 950 lbs.

Color ranges for these animals range from white and gray to black. Grey is the most common color, followed by brown, black, and roan (white with a mixture of other pigmented hairs). Most usually have a dark stripe of fur down their backs from mane to tail and across their shoulders. They have short, upright manes with a tail that is more similar to that of a cow than that of a horse. They have very long ears that are dark at the tip and the base. Their large ears also help cool donkeys by using them in a fan-like manner.

These animals enjoy the company of other donkeys and often bond with other individuals. When their kind are not present, they will often bond with horses, mules, and other small stock. Once a human has earned their confidence, they are often willing and companionable partners. Because of their ability to form strong bonds, separating a bonded donkey pair can cause stress leading to hyperlipidemia, a blood condition that can result in a heart attack or stroke.

Although they have a reputation for stubbornness, this trait is a self-preservation characteristic, which is why it is difficult to force a donkey into doing something that it perceives as dangerous. Their body language is also less expressive than those of horses, so they can be hard to read. A slight widening of their eyes can be misread as curiosity when it means stress or fear. A lack of movement when viewing an object that they fear is part of their reduced flight response. They will often defend themselves by biting, striking with the front hooves, or kicking with the hind legs.

These animals are known to be intelligent as well as cautious, friendly, playful, and eager to learn, which usually begins from the moment they’re born and continues throughout their lifetimes.

Domesticated donkeys are more territorial than horses, which is why they are sometimes used to guard herds of sheep and goats against predators, often stomping on anything that they feel is a threat. In many parts of the world where horses cannot easily survive or where there is extreme poverty, they are the primary beasts of burden and sources of transportation. They rest during the hottest part of the day and are more active in the morning and evening when they travel with the herd and eat.

African Donkey, Equus asinus, picture taken in Tanzania
African Donkey, Equus asinus, picture taken in Tanzania

Donkey Habitat

Domesticated donkeys are found all over the world in many different cultures, but if given their preference, they are best adapted for warm, dry areas – particularly marginal desert areas. This adaptation has provided them with hardy immune and digestive systems. Wild donkeys are usually solitary and do not form harems, with each adult establishing a home range. One jack may dominate breeding over a wide area.

If a domesticated donkey becomes feral and can choose its home, it will look for a warm place to live. Wild donkeys live in deserts and savannahs in northern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and the Middle East. These animals also live in Turkey, China, and in northern areas of Pakistan, India, Nepal, and Bhutan. Their loud calls, also known as a bray, and be heard over three kilometers and may act as a way for donkeys to keep in touch with each other in the wild.

Donkey Diet

These animals are herbivores, meaning they eat no meat. They enjoy a variety of foods, including hay, oats, grains, and grasses, but they will also eat shrubs and desert plants in certain areas. Their large lips allow them to grab plants and pull them into their mouths where they rip it apart with large front teeth and grind it before swallowing. These voracious eaters can consume as much as 6,000 lbs of food each year. Their immense appetites can become a problem if they become feral and take over the food supply from local creatures.


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Donkey Predators and Threats

Some estimate that the world’s donkey population could fall by half within the next five years to meet a rising demand for donkey hides used in traditional Chinese medicine. In 2006, the world had a donkey population of approximately 41 million. The worldwide number appears to continue to decrease even among domesticated donkeys as some poachers have raided domestic herds in some areas to satisfy the need for donkeys to create the gelatin-based traditional medicine called ejiao.

In the wild, donkey predators include foxes, wolves, and lions.

Donkey Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan

A female donkey, called a jenny, is pregnant for about 12 months; however, gestation varies among different species from 11 months to 14 months. Jennies usually birth a single foal, with twins being rare. Although jennies come into heat with about 10 days of giving birth, their reproductive tract is not normal at that point, and they usually don’t breed again until one or two cycles have passed. Some breeds do not come into estrus (also known as heat) when they have a foal at their side. The average reproduction rate for domesticated donkeys is three foals over four years.

Foals weigh between 19 and 30 pounds (about as heavy as a small dog) and can stand and nurse 30 minutes after birth. Jennies are very protective of their foals, who are weaned at about five months. A donkey can mate when it reaches two years of age.

Donkeys are picky about who is in their herd, yet they don’t care who they mate with and often breed with other members of the Equus family. The offspring between a jackass and a mare is called a mule, which is also valued as a working and riding animals. Less common is the offspring between a stallion and a jenny, known as a shinny. Both types of crossbreed are usually sterile. Donkeys can also breed with zebras with the offspring most often called a zonkey.

The average lifespan for a donkey is 25-30 years, however, they can live for much longer. The oldest donkey on record was a female domesticated donkey in the U.S. who lived to be 54.

Donkey Population

More than 50 million donkeys inhabit the world with most of them domesticated, living primarily in underdeveloped countries where they work or carry cargo. Despite their great numbers, few animals within each breed are purebred.

Several wild donkey species are on the edge of extinction. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), indicates that the African wild ass is critically endangered, with only 23 to 200 adults remaining. Asian wild asses (also known as Asiatic wild asses) are classified as near threatened, with a population of about 28,000. Most threats come from humans, either directly or through indirect habitat loss. 

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Donkey FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are donkeys carnivores, herbivores, or omnivores?

Donkeys are herbivores who eat mainly grass, grains, and hay. They have large appetites and teeth suited for eating a plant-based diet.

Where do donkeys come from?

Donkeys are descended from Nubian and Somali wild asses. These animals were first domesticated in Western Asia and Egypt somewhere between 6000 B.C. and 5000 B.C.

What is the difference between a donkey and a mule?

Donkeys are a specific species in the horse family. Mules are a cross between a female horse and a male donkey, also known as a jack, which explains the term jackass.

What is donkey meat called?

Donkey meat is commonly eaten in China and is technically called poopy – although most people just call it donkey meat. It is said to have a full, gamey flavor that is similar to beef.

Why do donkeys hate dogs?

Dogs resemble coyotes, which can threaten donkeys. However, once a donkey learns that a dog means no harm, it will usually begin to get along with a dog.

Are miniature donkeys good pets?

Miniature donkeys are quiet, easy to handle, affectionate, and enjoy the company of humans. Many people consider them to make good pets if they have the space and time to care for them.

Do donkeys get bored?

A donkey’s natural environment, where they must travel and constantly search for food, keeps them naturally stimulated. Domesticated donkeys live in a restricted environment, which can lead them to overfeed, become boredom, and have poor social interaction.

What Kingdom do Donkeys belong to?

Donkeys belong to the Kingdom Animalia.

What phylum do Donkeys belong to?

Donkeys belong to the phylum Chordata.

What class do Donkeys belong to?

Donkeys belong to the class Mammalia.

What family do Donkeys belong to?

Donkeys belong to the family Equidae.

What order do Donkeys belong to?

Donkeys belong to the order Perissodactyla.

What genus do Donkeys belong to?

Donkeys belong to the genus Equus.

What type of covering do Donkeys have?

Donkeys are covered in Fur.

In what type of habitat do Donkeys live?

Donkeys live in arid forests and deserts.

What are some distinguishing features of Donkeys?

Donkeys have stocky bodies.

What do Donkeys eat?

Donkeys eat grass, weeds, and vegetables.

What are some predators of Donkeys?

Predators of Donkeys include foxes, wolves, and lions.

What is the average litter size for a Donkey?

The average litter size for a Donkey is 1.

What is an interesting fact about Donkeys?

Donkeys were first domesticated 5,000 years ago!

What is the scientific name for the Donkey?

The scientific name for the Donkey is Equus Asinus.

What is the lifespan of a Donkey?

Donkeys can live for 15 to 30 years.

How fast is a Donkey?

A Donkey can travel at speeds of up to 15 miles per hour.

How to say Donkey in ...
Bulgarian
Магаре
Catalan
Ase
Czech
Osel africký
English
Donkey
Esperanto
Azeno
Spanish
Burro
Finnish
Aasi
French
Âne
Croatian
Magarac
Italian
Asino / Somaro / Ciuco
Japanese
ロバ
Dutch
Ezel
Polish
Osioł domowy
Portuguese
Asno,Burro
English
Măgar
Turkish
Eşek
Chinese

Sources
  1. David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2011) Animal, The Definitive Visual Guide To The World's Wildlife
  2. Tom Jackson, Lorenz Books (2007) The World Encyclopedia Of Animals
  3. David Burnie, Kingfisher (2011) The Kingfisher Animal Encyclopedia
  4. Richard Mackay, University of California Press (2009) The Atlas Of Endangered Species
  5. David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2008) Illustrated Encyclopedia Of Animals
  6. Dorling Kindersley (2006) Dorling Kindersley Encyclopedia Of Animals
  7. David W. Macdonald, Oxford University Press (2010) The Encyclopedia Of Mammals

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