Hybrids in the Equidae Family: Jenny, Hinny, Zonke, Zorse

Horse + donkey hybrid = mule

Horse + donkey hybrid = mule

Mules are remarkably versatile and hardy and work as farm and pack animals as well as saddle mounts, jumpers and draft animals.
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Nature has a playful way of keeping life interesting in the animal and plant world. Consider the hybrid possibilities of different combinations in the Equidae family when cross breeding combines features and traits of equines and comes up with a special hybrid menagerie of related but unique specimens.

Members of the Equidae family have a mane, 40-42 teeth, and skulls with long nasal bones. They are herd animals and fast runners, preferring to flee from danger rather than face it and are considered prey animals. In addition, members of the Equidae family are herbivores usually living in herds in the wild with social structures derived from their grazing habits and their needs as prey animals.

Basically the Equidae family consists of horses, asses/donkeys, and zebras. Within this genus are 9 species including the domestic horse or pony known as "Equus caballus" all with distinctive traits.

With well over 100 million horses, donkeys and related hybrids in the world today, these animals can be found on almost every continent and in almost every society where they have an important impact on economic and social development.

The donkey or ass (Equus asinus), also called burro, is a domestic ass belonging to the horse family Equidae and is descended from the African wild ass (Equus africanus).

Terms designating members of the Equidae family:

Horses and Donkeys:

  • Stallion: male horse
  • Mare: female horse
  • Jack: male donkey
  • Jennet or Jenny: female donkey

Horse, donkey, mule hybrids:

  • Mule: donkey father + horse mother
  • Hinny: horse father + donkey mother
  • Donkule, jule: donkey father + mule mother
  • Hule: horse father + mule mother

Zebra Hybrids: Zebroids

  • zebra father + horse mother: zorse
  • donkey + zebra: zonke or zebrass
  • pony + zebra: zoni
  • zebra + mule: zebmule
  • zebra + donkey: donkra or zebrass

Characteristics of donkey hybrids

Donkeys as beasts of burden

Donkeys as beasts of burden

Donkeys have been loyal beasts of burden for 5,000 years and much about the donkey is species specific including their temperament, intelligence, and cautious nature.
© 2017 by Brooke New window.

Donkeys have 62 chromosomes while domestic horses have 64. The donkey's hooves are the narrowest of any equid and quite small, making them very sure-footed as a result. A donkey has an upright main which is long and thin and doesn't have a forelock.

The donkey's tail is tufted instead of long a flowing like the tails of most horses. In addition donkeys are well-known for their ears which are much longer and fuller than those of horses and other equines. Donkeys have been loyal beasts of burden for 5,000 years and are intelligence, and cautious.

All domestic donkeys or asses are descendants of wild asses from Africa and Asia. The endangered Somali ass, though, is the only African wild ass still present in Africa. The donkey’s characteristic dark, cross-shaped dorsal-and-withers stripe derives from the Nubian wild ass (Equus africanus africanus), which is considered extinct. Ancient Egyptian art depicts this animal as that culture’s domesticated beast of burden.

Because of the donkey's ability to adapt to extreme heat, they are often used as "beasts of burden" in many areas of the world.

Donkeys often referred to as asses in many countries may have become partners with the human race as early as 2,800 B.C., though scholars disagree whether domestication began first in western Asia or northern Africa. More significant is the fact that the ass’ natural habitat was hot, dry, hilly, rocky countryside — very different from the cool, broad steppes or grasslands where wild horses originated. These differences in habitat account for some of the features and behaviors we now attribute to donkeys and their hybrid cousins, mules.

Mule with happy face ready for portrait

Mule with happy face ready for portrait

The most common equine hybrid is the mule, a cross between a male donkey and a female horse and, although reputed to be stubborn, are intelligent and gentle unless mistreated by humans.
© 2017 by Greg Westfall New window.

The most common equine hybrid is the mule, a cross between a male donkey and a female horse. With rare exceptions, these hybrids are sterile and cannot reproduce.

Mules are remarkably versatile and hardy: They work as farm and pack animals as well as saddle mounts, jumpers and draft animals. In areas where mules are common, they are highly valued, not only for the work they do, but also because of their intelligence and gentleness. If a mule is ill-tempered or stubborn experts say, it’s a fair bet a human is to blame.

A related hybrid, a hinny is a domestic equine hybrid that is the offspring of a male horse, a stallion, and a female donkey, a jenny. It is the complement to the more common mule, which is the product of a male donkey, a jack, and a female horse, a mare.

A hinny usually resembles a horse more than a donkey and often looks more like a horse with long ears.

In cross-breeding attempts, it is harder to get a hinny than a mule, since there are problems with the 62 chromosomes of the donkey matching up with the 64 chromosomes of the horse. In addition, since the female donkey known as a jennet has fewer gene pairs than a horse the conception rate is much lower.

On the other hand, mules are very easy to breed, and mares that have had trouble conceiving a horse foal are often mated to a jack and have a mule foal with no problem.

Zebra hybrids = zebroids: any zebra-based hybrid

Note the bristly mane and striped pattern

Note the bristly mane and striped pattern

A Grevy’s zebra now considered endangered with approximately 2,000 still living in the Horn of Africa.
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Zebroids are almost always infertile, and they sometimes suffer from dwarfism. While horses, zebras, and donkeys look similar and belong to the same genus (Equus), each species has a different number of chromosomes and that partially explains why matings often do not result in healthy animals.

Hybrids include the zorse, a cross between a zebra and a horse and a zonkey or zedonk, a hybrid of a zebra and a donkey. A zedonk is essentially a zebra. Another hybrid is the Zony or zetland, a zebra/pony cross with "zony" being a generic term and a "zetland" is specifically a hybrid of the Shetland pony breed with a zebra. In most cases, the sire is a zebra stallion.

The zorse is shaped more like a horse than a zebra, but has boldly striped legs and, often, stripes on the body or neck. Zorses are sometimes called golden zebras due to dark stripes overlaying a chestnut background, though the color of the zorse depends on the color of the horse parent.

zebra father + horse mother: zorse

zebra father + horse mother: zorse

The zorse is shaped more like a horse than a zebra, but has boldly striped legs and, often, stripes on the body or neck.
© 2017 by Wikipedia New window.

Hybrid offspring of a donkey sire and zebra dam, called a zebra hinny or donkra, do exist but are rare.

According to veterinarians Ellen B. Wiedner , VMD , DACVIM , William A. Lindsay , DVM , DACVS , and Ramiro Isaza , DVM , MS , MPH , DACZM in an online article for VetFolio, "Equine practitioners are sometimes asked to treat zebras or zebra-horse or zebra-donkey hybrids. Although these equids are subject to many of the same health issues as domestic horses, they cannot be handled like horses and generally require heavy sedation to full anesthesia, even for minor procedures. This usually necessitates the use of ultra potent narcotics administered by remote delivery systems."

Also, unlike horses, Zebras and zebra hybrids often do not exhibit recognizable signs of disease or pain, even with serious medical conditions such as laminitis or surgical diseases of the abdomen making it more difficult to identify and treat sick animals.

When attempts are made to domesticate zebras and zebroids, difficulties arise because the animals generally become intractable by puberty. The behavior change can be abrupt, shocking inexperienced owners who have become used to an affectionate foal. Bottle-raised animals seem especially likely to become aggressive, making zebras and zebroids generally unsuitable as domesticated animals or pets.

Did you know?

In the domesticated world, the most widespread and useful of hybrids are mules reputed for their hard work and strength despite their medium size. Mules are dependable and often exhibit higher intelligence than their purebred parents. All male mules and most female mules are infertile, so their continued existence depends entirely on human intervention.

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