Donkey is the name of the domesticated ass. The wild ass of northern and northeastern Africa is the ancestor of the donkey. This wild ass looks like a zebra with no stripes, except occasionally on the legs. It stands about 4 feet (1.2 meters) high at the shoulders. Its coat of hair is gray, with a darker line along its back. Other characteristics of the species are long ears, small feet, and long hair at the end of the tail. Selective breeding has resulted in donkeys that vary in size, color, and the length of their coat of hair.
Thousands of years ago, people tamed the African wild ass and raised it for their own use. The domesticated donkey is most common in southern Asia, southern Europe, and northern Africa.
There are several varieties of the donkey. People use light, speedy donkeys for riding. Those of a larger, heavier breed draw carts or carry loads on their backs. The hardy donkeys do not require as much or as good food as horses require. However, they become stubborn and dull if badly treated. Female donkeys produce good milk.
A female donkey is called a jenny or a jennet. If a jack (male donkey) is mated with a mare (female horse), the animal that is born is a mule (see Mule). A cross between a female donkey and a stallion (male horse) is called a hinny. Small donkeys called burros are often used as pack animals because they are sure-footed. Other kinds of wild asses live on the dry plains of Asia. They include the kiang, kulan, and onager (see Onager). All wild asses are rare and face possible extinction.
Scientific classification. Donkeys are in the horse family, Equidae. The scientific name for domesticated donkeys and the African wild ass is Equus asinus.
Mule is a domesticated, hybrid animal that results from crossing a mare (female horse) and a jack (male donkey). The offspring of a male horse (stallion) and a female ass (jenny) is called a hinny. Other mulelike hybrids were bred during ancient times from horses and onagers. Mules were once popular work animals throughout the world. Some breeders even raised certain types of large donkeys in order to produce sizable mules.
A mule looks somewhat like both its parents. Like the jack, a mule has long ears, short mane, small feet, and a tail with a tuft of long hairs at the end. From the mother it gets a large, well-shaped body and strong muscles. She also gives it a horse's ease in getting used to harness. The father gives the mule a braying voice, sure-footedness, and endurance. Like the jack, a mule saves its strength when it is forced to work hard and for a long time. A mule is less likely to suffer from overwork than a horse.
Mules are hardy and resist disease well. Unfortunately, mules do not have offspring of their own, except in extremely rare cases. Animals which cannot have offspring are said to be sterile. All male mules and most female mules are sterile. A few female mules have produced young after they were bred to male asses or to stallions.
Mules can remain strong under much harsh treatment and work, but they work better if they are treated with kindness. When owners take proper care of their mules, the mules will do as much work as horses, and they will do the work under more harsh conditions. The hardiness of mules makes them suitable for work in construction camps, mines, and military zones.
In the United States, over nine-tenths of all the mules have worked on farms and plantations. Most of them have been used in the South.