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Rare Baby "Zonkey" Had Everyone Scratching Their Heads

What do you get when you combine a zebra and a donkey? A zonkey, of course!

Zonkey? The term sounds like something out of a book by Dr. Seuss. But in truth, zonkeys are real animals. They're a hybrid between a donkey and a zebra, and they look just as unusual as you might expect. But they're also incredibly cute, as this video will prove.

In 2014, a baby zonkey was born to a zoo in Mexico. His mother was a zebra, and his father was an albino donkey that lived near the zoo. The zebra and the donkey both enjoyed each other's company, and sometimes the donkey would even sneak into the zoo.

The breeding was completely unplanned, and zookeepers were surprised when they realized that the zebra was pregnant. Take a look at the adorable foal that resulted.

You can see the influence of both equine species in the zonkey's appearance. His head resembles the zebra in shape, and he sports the distinctive zebra stripes on his legs, as well as a black mane. But his body is a mostly solid brown color, the influence of the donkey.

Understanding the Zonkey

If you've never seen a zonkey foal before, that's because these animal hybrids are very rare. Zonkeys have a zebra mother or zebra father and are crossed with a donkey. According to The Horse, there are only four zebroids in the world, and it's all due to chromosome issues.

A zebra and donkey hybrid doesn't usually work, especially when people are trying to breed this specific cross. Though zebras and donkeys are equids, their chromosome number is different. Donkeys have 62 chromosomes, while zebras have only 44. Making things even more complicated is that not only do the animals have a different number of chromosomes, but they also have different shapes.

Donkey and horse crosses are much more likely since the two equids are more closely related. Donkeys have 62 chromosomes and horses have 64 chromosomes, so hybrid mules and hinneys are a closer chromosomal match than zonkeys.

While chance may sometimes result in a zonkey foal, when zonkeys mature they're usually unable to reproduce, states ABC News. When a female horse and male donkey mate, the result is a mule which also can't reproduce. Zonkeys are similar, which means while the occasional zonkey may occur, it's unlikely that this hybrid animal will ever significantly grow in number.

Breeding Zonkeys for Domestication

So what are the chances that zonkeys will start being bred for domestication? They're pretty slim. Zebras are difficult to train and require special enclosures to keep them contained - they're excellent jumpers. A zonkey is a half-wild animal, so their behavior can be unpredictable. Plus, there's the financial cost of breeding zebra-donkey hybrids and the difficulty of successful breedings. But zonkeys have been in existence since the early 1900s, and one was even born on a Florida farm earlier this year.

The Sunday Morning Herald states that zonkeys aren't the only unusual hybrids out there. A "zebroid" refers to the half-zebra that results when a zebra is crossed with any other type of equine, while a "zebrule" specifies a zebra cross with a mule. A zebra cross with a horse is called a "zorse," and while zebra-donkey hybrids are called zonkeys, they are also sometimes called a "zedonk."

If you ever come across a zonkey in real life, you're very lucky. These zebra hybrids are rare but are totally fascinating examples of cross-breeding.

This article was originally published September 29, 2019. 

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