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4 Types of Donkeys: Species, Facts and Photos

Known both as resilient wild creatures and versatile domestic animals, donkeys intertwine with human histories and landscapes with significant diversity. Various types of donkeys fit into various ecosystems and farming cultures. Read on to learn more about their valuable roles and impressive adaptations in this article. 

General Information about Donkeys

Donkeys have a compact build, elongated ears, and strategic eye positioning, which gives them a panoramic view of their surroundings. They come in various sizes and colors. They are also popular draft animals.

According to the American Donkey and Mule Society, a male donkey bred with a female horse produces a mule, which can be male or female. A horse stallion bred to a female donkey produces a hinny, which can also be male or female. Finally, donkeys bred with donkeys also produce donkeys.

They can live in diverse habitats, from arid desert regions to rural and mountainous areas with temperate climates. However, some donkey breeds, such as the African wild ass, face significant threats that could lead to their extinction. 

While they are the ancestor of all domestic donkeys, there are only fewer than 600 African wild asses estimated to remain in the wild.

Other rare breeds include the Catalan, the Poitou, the Zamorano-Leones, and the Cotentin Donkey. Creating a breed registry in 1997 also helped efforts to protect and grow dwindling donkey populations.

Read More: Donkey Facts.

Donkey Classification

Donkeys are members of the genus Equus, which is part of the horse family Equidae, which also includes various horse species. This article specifically highlights the African Wild Donkey species, which consists of three wild and one domesticated subspecies. The American Society of Mammalogists asserts that the donkey is a unique species, similar to most domestic mammals.

African wild donkeys are formerly referred to asinus, originating from the domesticated donkey's name. However, this naming has sparked confusion as it technically signifies being a descendant. The International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature rectified this misconception1 by endorsing the name Equus africanus through Opinion 2027.

For clarity, an ass usually refers to the wild version of these equines, whereas a donkey implies a domesticated version. Further discussion will elaborate on each subspecies' distinctive traits alongside some donkey breeds. 

4 Types of Donkey Subspecies

1. Nubian Wild Ass (Equus africanus africanus)

Nubian Wild Ass
Photo by Berlin Zoological Gardens on Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain).

The Nubian wild ass, a subspecies of the African wild ass, occupied the Nubian desert, stretching from Egypt's eastern Nile to northern Eritrea. It is distinguishable by its gray body and black shoulder cross. 

Unfortunately, it is likely extinct, with possible survivors from north Eritrea, Sudan, and Egypt posing concerns about their preservation. In fact, all wild donkeys have been critically endangered4. They face systemic decline due to climate changes and direct human influence, with a maximum population of 200 mature individuals.

2. Somali Wild Ass (Equus africanus somaliensis)

Somali Wild Ass
Photo by Ericj on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original).

The Somali wild ass is an inhabitant of Somalia, Eritrea, and Ethiopia. It adapts well to arid and semi-arid bushland and grassland. Some are Residing in the volcanic terrain of the Great Rift Valley.

Its sandy body and striped legs can distinguish this type of wild donkey, similar to those of its close relatives, the zebras.

Its diet mainly consists of grass but also includes leaves, bark, and tough desert flora. Given the scarcity of resources in their habitat, these animals predominantly live solitary lives, occasionally forming small, fleeting herds when resources permit.

3. Atlas Wild Ass (Equus africanus atlanticus)

The Atlas wild ass, also known as the Algerian wild ass, used to inhabit North Africa and parts of the Sahara. Sadly, their existence ceased around 300 AD, post-Roman times. Ancient artwork recalls their existence, depicting black and white leg stripes and a unique black shoulder cross3

4. Donkey (Equus africanus asinus)

Donkey
Photo by Ryan Hodnett on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The domesticated donkey, or simply donkey, sports a broader and longer dark cross at its shoulders compared to its wild counterparts. Size and color also vary widely based on breed. 

A grown male and female are known as a jack and a jenny, respectively, while infants of either sex are called foals. Jacks could mate with mares or female horses, producing hybrids known as mules. Another hybrid, the hinny, is less common. It is born of a stallion, male horses, and a jenny.

About 5000 years ago, genetic data suggests two different donkey domestication events occurred in northeast Africa2, with the Nubian wild ass being a known ancestor. The Somali wild ass, however, diverges significantly on the mitochondrial level from the Nubian wild ass and domestic donkeys.

Here are some donkey breeds you can familiarize yourself with:

North American Donkeys

North American Donkeys
Photo by Pete Markham on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (Cropped from original).

North American donkeys, imported in the fifteenth century, spread across Mexico and reached the United States by the seventeenth century. Their numbers surged during the nineteenth-century gold rushes as they served as pack animals and mine workers. 

In recent years, these donkeys have transitioned from working animals to pets. The Canadian Donkey and Mule Association and the American Donkey and Mule Society register them into miniature, standard, or mammoth categories based on size. 

Miniature donkeys stand 36 inches or less, small standard donkeys range from 36 to 48 inches, and large standard donkeys span from 48 to 56 inches, depending on sex. Mammoth donkeys exceed these heights. Spotted donkeys with particular markings obtain a distinct registration.

American Mammoth Jackstock

American Mammoth Jackstock
Photo by PYellott on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original).

The American Mammoth Jackstock is a domestic donkey breed known for its size and calm temperament. In the early 19th century, people selectively bred large European donkeys brought to America, developing the breed.

They have a solid build, straight profile, broad forehead, and large ears. Their coats are black, brown, or gray. 

American Mammoth Jackstocks can live in different climates but appreciate good shelter during extreme weather conditions. These large donkeys have a lifespan of 30- 35 years and can make good companions with proper care.

Andalusian/Iberian Donkey

The Andalusian Donkey, also known as the Iberian Donkey, is a domesticated animal indigenous to the Iberian Peninsula. They stand about five feet tall at the withers with a straight profile, large ears, a long head, and light to dark gray bodies.

Moreover, they are calm and docile, making them easy to handle and work with. As such, they are widely used in tourism as pack animals and pets.

Asinara Donkey

Asinara Donkey
Photo by Larry Koester on Flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The Asinara donkey is a small breed native to the island of Asinara, located off the northwestern coast of Sardinia, Italy. This hardy breed has adapted to the harsh, windswept conditions of its native land. 

It features a pristine white coat and light blue eyes that reflect the surrounding Mediterranean waters. Due to their calm and gentle nature, Asinara donkeys are popular animals for leisurely rides and therapy sessions. 

However, around 300 Asinara donkeys remain today. The Asinara National Park provides a sanctuary for these small donkeys and ensures the survival of their genetic and cultural significance.

Baudet du Poitou

Baudet du Poitou
Photo by Sudorculus on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original).

The Baudet du Poitou, also known as the Poitou Donkey, is a large donkey breed from France's Poitou region that stands over 4.7 feet tall. Its shaggy black coat falls into long, curly locks known as a 'cadenette.' 

Breeders once valued the Poitou for breeding mules, but its numbers have dwindled due to the decline in manual labor. However, conservationists and animal lovers stepped in to protect the breed, and efforts to increase their numbers are ongoing. 

The Poitou Donkey is a popular attraction in agritourism due to its unique appearance and friendly nature.

Catalan Donkey

Catalan Donkey
Photo by Jean Paul Alandry on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Catalan Donkey breed is a large donkey species from Spain. Males can reach 4.76 feet tall, and females can reach 4.43 feet. As natives of the Mediterranean region, they are well-suited to Catalonia's climate.

They have played a vital role in agriculture and transportation, earning them the reputation of being the workhorses of the donkey world. They are also gentle and docile, suitable for therapeutic and educational activities. 

Moreover, these donkeys are intelligent, quick learners with healthy grass, hay, and grain diets. They enjoy high regard in local events and regional festivals and are symbols of Catalan identity, heritage, and local color.

Cypriot Donkey

Cypriot Donkey
Photo by Michal Klajban on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

Cyprus is a beautiful island in the Mediterranean known for the Cypriot Donkey. These donkeys have adapted to the island's arid conditions, are calm and sociable, and are friendly towards humans. Unfortunately, the mechanization of agriculture and transportation has caused a severe decline in their populations.

Majorcan Donkey

The Majorcan Donkey, known as "Burrat," is a medium-sized donkey with a robust and sturdy build. It has deep black or dark brown coats with lighter shades around its eyes, muzzles, and bellies. 

This Spanish breed of domestic donkey inhabits the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean. These gentle animals have been historically used for agricultural work. However, Majorcan Donkeys are endangered.

Martina Franca Donkey

The Martina Franca Donkey is strong and hardy. They have a dark gray or black coat with a contrasting light belly and muzzle. They eat grass, hay, and clean water, which gives them strong resistance to diseases and harsh climates. 

Historically, humans have used these donkeys for labor and transportation. Later, their calm and docile temperaments made them suitable human companions. Moreover, their milk has earned high regard for its therapeutic properties. It often appears in local festivals and events.

Miniature Mediterranean Donkey

Native to Sardinia and Sicily, the Miniature Mediterranean Donkey shares relations with the Sardinian and Sicilian donkey. Its coats, which come in black, brown, gray, or spotted, offer natural protection against weather extremes. 

Interestingly, its shoulder height never exceeds three feet. Despite their size, they are tough and resilient. These donkeys are also hard workers, historically used for vineyard work and water transport. 

Provence Donkey

Provence Donkey
Photo by Patrick Gaudin on Flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The Provence Donkey is a medium-sized breed from the Provence region of France. It is a calm and friendly animal with long ears and a gray coat with a dark stripe. 

They can navigate rocky terrain and survive on sparse vegetation. Moreover, these donkeys are highly intelligent and trainable, often playing a central role in local culture and tradition.

Sardinian Donkey

Sardinian Donkey
Photo by Jim on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The Sardinian Donkey is from Sardinia in the Mediterranean region. It is a miniature donkey breed that measures about three feet tall. They wear a sleek grey coat with a dark stripe running down their back, forming a cross shape on their shoulders. 

They can thrive in various environments, feeding on grass, hay, grains, fruits, and vegetables. These intelligent donkeys also have an exceptional memory, allowing them to navigate rocky terrains easily.

Moreover, Sardinian donkeys are calm and docile, suitable for therapeutic riding programs and traditional events. 

Zamorano-Leonés Donkey

Zamorano-Leonés Donkey
Photo by XanaG on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original).

The Zamorano-Leonés Donkey is a large breed found in Spain's provinces of Zamora and León. It has a robust, dark coat with a light underbelly and muzzle.

Meanwhile, males can reach heights up to 5.24 feet, while females are approximately 4.92 feet tall. Moreover, farmers traditionally use this breed to cultivate vineyards and transport goods. 

The breed's gentle demeanor has made it a popular choice in therapeutic and educational programs.

1

International Trust for Zoological Nomenclature. (2003). Opinion 2027 (Case 3010). Usage of 17 specific names based on wild species which are pre-dated by or contemporary with those based on domestic animals (Lepidoptera, Osteichthyes, Mammalia): conserved. The Bulletin of zoological nomenclature.

2

Kimura, B., Marshall, F., Chen, S., Rosenbom, S., Moehlman, P. D., Tuross, N., Sabin, R., Peters, J., Barich, B. E., Hagos, Y., Kebede, F., Teclai, R., Beja‐Pereira, A., & Mulligan, C. J. (2010). Ancient DNA from Nubian and Somali wild ass provides insights into donkey ancestry and domestication. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 278(1702), 50–57.

3

Hemmer, H. (2005). Domestication: The Decline of Environmental Appreciation.

4

Moehlman, P.D., Kebede, F. & Yohannes, H. (2015). Equus africanus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T7949A45170994. 

By Mike Gomez, BA.

Mike is a degree-qualified researcher and writer passionate about increasing global awareness about climate change and encouraging people to act collectively in resolving these issues.

Fact Checked By:
Isabela Sedano, BEng.

Photo by Julissa Helmuth on Pexels.
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