House donkey

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House donkey
Domestic donkey (Equus asinus asinus)

Domestic donkey ( Equus asinus asinus )

Superordinate : Laurasiatheria
Order : Unpaired ungulate (Perissodactyla)
Family : Horses (Equidae)
Genre : Horses ( equus )
Type : African donkey ( Equus asinus )
Subspecies : House donkey
Scientific name
Equus asinus asinus
Linnaeus , 1758

The domestic donkey ( Equus asinus asinus ) is a common domestic animal around the world . Its ancestral form is the African donkey . The Asian donkey ( Equus hemionus ), also known as the half donkey , is another wild horse species that can be distinguished from the ancestral form of the house donkey .


Head of a donkey

Donkeys are pony-sized representatives of the horse family with very long ears, standing mane and a tail with a tassel at the end . The coat color is gray or brown to black, sometimes reddish. There are also piebald donkeys. Pure white donkeys are very rare ( Asinara in Sardinia, Austrian / Hungarian, albino or baroque donkeys ). An eel line usually runs across the back, a horizontal line ( shoulder cross ) across the shoulders and the legs are often striped zebra-like . The belly is white, as is the area around the mouth and eyes .

In contrast to the domestic horse , the donkey's hooves are adapted to dry ground. The hoof wall of donkey hooves can absorb more water than that of horses and is more resistant to abrasion. This is an advantage in a dry environment, but a disadvantage in a humid climate. Donkeys therefore need an appropriate posture that enables them to avoid getting wet.

Depending on the breed, donkeys have a shoulder height of 90 to 160 cm and are sexually mature at 2 to 2 ½ years. In principle, mating is possible all year round, but it usually takes place in spring. After a gestation period of 12 to 14 months, one cub, sometimes two, is usually born. It takes about six to nine months to become self-employed. Donkeys are usually more durable than horses and can live to be over 40 years old.


Stubborn donkey in traffic (Photo: Berlin 1936)

In addition to the purely external differences to horses, donkeys have some special features that are not recognizable at first glance. In contrast to horses, donkeys have five instead of six lumbar vertebrae . Donkeys have 31 pairs of chromosomes , horses have 32. The body temperature is slightly lower in donkeys, averaging 37 ° C instead of the usual 37.5 to 38.2 ° C in horses. The gestation period is longer for donkeys than for horses. On average it is 365 to 370 days compared to 330 days for horses. There are also significant differences in behavior: horses tend to flee in stressful situations , while donkeys tend to pause. Donkey mares often live alone with their foals in the mountains and an immediate escape is therefore not always possible without endangering the foal. Donkeys often stop dead in their tracks. Additional stress, for example from blows or screams, tends to increase this rigidity, which results in the donkey's reputation as a particularly stubborn or stupid animal. However, this is wrong. Donkeys originally live in rugged wasteland and rocky mountains. Donkeys are very attentive. They check exactly where they are going. In contrast to the horse - an inhabitant of the open steppes - a headless flight of the animals in steep or stony terrain would lead to certain death.

Wild donkeys and feral domestic donkeys

As with horses, a distinction can be made between original wild donkeys and feral house donkeys. The African donkey was once distributed in several subspecies across North Africa and the Middle East, today only a few hundred animals live in northeastern Africa ( Ethiopia , Eritrea , Somalia and Sudan ).

On the other hand, there are feral donkeys in many regions of the world. Its range also includes the countries that are home to real wild asses, which gives cause for concern that the two stocks could mix and destroy the genetic purity of the wild asses. 1.5 million feral donkeys roam the interior of Australia . About 6000 feral donkeys live in the southwest of the USA , which are called burros ( Spanish for "donkey"). As a historical symbol, these burros are protected; this is controversial, however, as they are said to have caused a decline in the local bighorn sheep due to competition in foraging and watering . One of the few populations of feral donkeys in Europe occurs in the north of the Mediterranean island of Cyprus on the Karpas peninsula . They are dark brown to black and much larger than their originally released counterparts. They often have zebra crossings on their legs.


Hortus sanitatis , Mainz 1491 Illustration to the chapter Asinus - donkey, sack carrier

DNA studies confirm existing theories on the phylogenesis of donkeys that all present-day domestic donkeys are descended from the African donkey and that they can be fertile crossed with it. Donkeys were previously domesticated as horses and are one of the first pack animals available to humans. Already 4000 BC. The Nubian wild ass was made a pet in the Nile Valley of Egypt . In Mesopotamia domestication followed shortly afterwards. Donkeys came to Europe even before classical antiquity . The Etruscans had house donkeys that presumably came from Asia Minor . After Greece came Hausesel about 1000 v. Donkeys have only been found north of the Alps since Roman times.

Saddled donkey

Originally donkeys were also used as mounts and to pull wagons. Later they were usually replaced by horses, which were faster and stronger. From this time on, donkeys rarely appear in the traditions of ancient cultures. The fact that the donkey was mainly used as a pack animal is due to its tenacity. A donkey can survive much longer than a horse without food and water . Donkeys were also preferred to be kept in mills , where they served as sack carriers for grain and flour. Since donkeys, unlike horses, have a head for heights, they were and are a preferred riding and pack animal (pack donkey) in steep mountains.

In addition to their traditional use as carrying and draft animals, donkeys are also used for meat production ( salami ), as milk producers ( donkey milk ) and for leather production. In the Middle Ages, donkey skin was considered particularly suitable for making parchment . In Asia, donkey skin has been processed into jelly or powder for centuries and used as a remedy, called ejiao , in traditional Chinese medicine. The increasing demand from China is leading to rapidly decreasing donkey populations worldwide.

Because of its defensive behavior against dogs , it is also used by shepherds as a herd protection donkey . The donkey is increasingly used in animal-assisted therapy and education . In Europe it is also used as a mount in tourism (burro safari, beach rides).

The donkey as a pack and mount animal in Turkey

The grazing donkeys provides an effective, but so far little used tool of landscape maintenance is. Valuable Especially for the care dry habitats have proven highly effective. In combination with other grazing animals or manual care, the regeneration of light pine forests can also be achieved. Dominant ruderal grasses such as the country riding grass can be pushed back well by donkeys. At the same time, they promote weak-growing plants through imperfections. Compared to horses, donkeys are more all-terrain and bite problem species such as oriental serrated pods , thistles or nettles . Donkeys have a longer life expectancy than sheep, cattle and goats. Compared to sheep, donkeys eat more wood and grass-like plants and also break down the litter layer better. However, they are more complex to manage. A person can only lead one or two donkeys, whereas a flock of sheep can lead several hundred animals.


For example, guidelines for animal welfare have been issued by the Lower Saxony Ministry of Agriculture . Accordingly, donkeys should never be kept as individual animals, but always in groups of several donkeys, but not as pure groups of stallions. You need a sufficiently large pasture (e.g. at least 500 m 2 for five animals) with protection from the weather. In addition, a stable with sufficient space is required (at least 5 m 2 per animal, all donkeys should be able to lie down in the stable at the same time). The stable must offer protection from rain, wind and cold, especially in winter. Mares with foals should be housed separately.

When feeding, in addition to an adequate water supply, it is important to ensure that the food contains a high proportion of raw fibers (larger than that of horses), such as wood , lignified shrubs , straw and hay . An oversupply of energy-rich food (e.g. grain ) leads to health problems such as obesity, metabolic diseases and changes in the hoof.

Daily inspection of the animals is also recommended, especially the hooves, which are prone to thrush . The teeth must also be checked at longer intervals. The hooves must be corrected regularly , treatment against endoparasites and vaccinations are also necessary. When looking after the animals, it is important to ensure that the donkeys have enough activity.

Donkey in unicorn tension in front of a wagon

The animals are allowed to carry or pull loads. In order to prevent damage to health, the weight to be carried should not exceed 20% of the donkey's weight (for example, a donkey weighing 200 kg should not exceed 40 kg load). Riding a donkey is therefore not possible in many cases. When it comes to the tensile load, double the donkey's weight is still just reasonable.

For the offspring of animals, an occupation of donkey mares is recommended from an age of three years at the earliest. The mare should get a fill every two years at most.


In addition to the subspecies of the wild ass, geographic and ecological isolation and purposeful breeding in the course of domestication of the house donkey have led to the development of land and cultural breeds .

The primary use of the house donkey as a pack animal produced far fewer different cultural breeds than is the case with horses. Within this use-oriented selection, hardly any differentiable races developed. With the large number of donkeys that are distributed across all countries of the hot and temperate zones, it is not possible to assign them to a particular breed . The few cultivated breeds that were able to develop mainly in the course of mule breeding have been preserved in small stocks in Europe, primarily in France, Italy and Spain. In these countries they are cared for as endangered donkey breeds in original herd books, and their breeding organizations are trying to save them. The list of donkey breeds provides an overview of donkey breeds .


Two hybrids of the donkey are bred and are not reproductive:

  • Mule - crossing of a horse stallion and a donkey mare
  • Mule or mule - crossing of a donkey stallion and a horse mare

Because of the different advertising behavior of horse and donkey (donkeys treat each other much more brutally because unwilling mares do not simply run away as with horses) it is far easier to breed mules than mules. In addition, horse mares are generally larger than donkey mares, which leaves the unborn foal more space in the womb and makes childbirth less problematic.

The zesel , a cross with a zebra, is rarer and mostly unplanned .


The female donkey is called donkey mare, the male donkey stallion, young animals are called donkey foals. Castrated male donkeys are called donkey geldings or males . A donkey stable, breeding farm or stud farm is known as an Asinerie (after the Latin name asinus ).

Symbolic and mythological meaning

Flight into Egypt - Vittore Carpaccio 1500
Palm donkey sculpture (1505) Germanisches Nationalmuseum

The animal head of the god Seth in Egyptian mythology is said to represent a donkey's head. Since Seth changed from a desert god to an underworld god in the course of Egyptian religious history, the donkey was viewed as the embodiment of a demon. It is on this connection that the mockery of the Jews and Christians of ancient Rome, who were accused of worshiping donkeys, is believed to be based. Also Horus had a donkey incarnation. In Greek mythology, satyrs or Silenus and Centaurs were hybrids of humans and equids (donkey or horse). The Phrygian Marsyas was a donkey demon belonging to the satyrs. In the musical competition he was defeated by the Greek god Apollon . This was worshiped in the eastern Mediterranean as Apollon Killaios , as "Apollon, the donkey".

In the Middle East there was a deity, called Pales by the Romans , who was male and female at the same time and was depicted with the body of a human and the head of a donkey. Today there is no longer any religious worship of the donkey in the Middle East, but it plays an important role in many folk tales, proverbs and pranks (e.g. in Nasreddin or Juha ). In some places the donkey was attributed laziness, stubbornness, and abnormal sexuality.

In the Bible, the donkey comes across in multiple contexts: the donkey is a transport animal, riding animal of the noble ( Ri 10.4  EU ), the warrior ( Ri 5.10  EU ) and the end-time king ( Sach 9.9  EU ). In Numbers 22:28 the donkey speaks to her rider Balaam when an angel approaches them with a sword and she is struck by her rider: What have I done to you that you have now struck me three times? The firstborn of the donkey was the only one other than that of humans that did not have to be sacrificed, but instead had to be triggered by the sacrifice of a lamb ( Exodus 34:20). The image of the king on the donkey was included in the New Testament description of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem ( Mt 21.1–11  EU ) par. on the donkey for Passover before his crucifixion.

Ox and donkey are an integral part of the tradition of the birth of Christ, even if they are not directly mentioned in the biblical Christmas story. The donkey can already be found in the earliest depictions of Jesus' birth in the 3rd century. In pictorial representations of the flight to Egypt, the holy family usually rides a donkey.

In the Christian tradition, the donkey plays a role as a symbolic figure. In the Middle Ages, the donkey fair ( La Fête des Fous ) was celebrated in many places in the middle of winter ; in the Middle Ages this was a kind of carnival event with religious, humorous and erotic aspects. In Christian iconography he appears, among other things as the companion of St. Nicholas , as the embodiment of the faithful servant. From the 5th century onwards, the donkey was used in conjunction with the ox as a symbol for Jewish or paganism.

With the Bremen Town Musicians it is the donkey who takes the initiative and shows the other animals a future perspective. He speaks the most famous sentence in the fairy tale: "You will find something better than death everywhere".

The donkey in the fairy tale of the Brothers Grimm Little table set you, gold donkey and club from the sack spits out gold pieces in front and behind according to the magic word "Bricklebrit". The ability of the donkey was already possessed by the Phrygian king Midas , who had acted as arbiter in the musical competition between Apollon and Marsyas. Midas is said to have belonged to the Phrygian blacksmiths and was the first to mine lead. Everything Midas touched turned to gold.

In the Italian novel Pinocchio , the donkey is seen as an example of stupidity and laziness; Pinocchio is persuaded by a classmate nicknamed “Candle Wick” to come with him to the land of gimmicks, where all boys do only what they want. At first Pinocchio and his friends are enthusiastic about the paradise of idleness, but one day all children who were “naughty” turn into donkeys. The donkeys are shipped and sold to a circus, but when Pinocchio injures himself during a performance, he is sold to a man who wants to make a drum out of Pinocchio's donkey skin. He tries to kill the donkey by throwing it into the sea, but when the fish attack the donkey, only Pinocchio is left and the man is left empty-handed.

The Catalan donkey , El Ruc Català o guarà, is considered the unofficial national symbol of Catalonia, which can be understood as a symbol opposite to the Spanish Osborne bull .

In fable and popular parlance, the donkey is described as a stubborn, often stupid animal. This also results in the use of the word “donkey” as a swear word , for example in terms such as donkey corner or donkey ear (as “actually improper bookmark” in books) and in the counting rhyme “Me and you, Müller's cow, Müller's donkey, that's you! “Is expressed. In the parable of Buridan's donkey, the donkey starves to death because it cannot decide which of two equally large and equally distant haystacks to eat first. That the donkey is "stupid" is a post-ancient European view. In the Orient, on the contrary, the donkey was and is considered to be particularly intelligent. There is a legend about the wise donkey of the prophet Balaam, who surpassed her master in wisdom, whereby Balaam is regarded as the "wisest of the wise" in the Jewish tradition.

A donkey sculpture by Peter Lenk adorns the market square of Biberach an der Riss . It refers to the satire "The Trial of the Donkey's Shadow" by Christoph Martin Wieland . In Halle (Saale) , the donkey is a central part of the best-known city saga, in which the donkey moved into the city instead of the emperor, and can therefore be found in at least five different places, including the donkey fountain on the old market.

In the United States, the donkey is an unofficial symbol of the Democratic Party . In 1828 the presidential candidate Andrew Jackson was defamed as a donkey by his opponents. Jackson, who was elected the seventh US president, then made the donkey the symbol of his campaign. In 1870 the donkey appeared in the drawings of the German-American cartoonist Thomas Nast , who also helped the elephant to break through as a republican party symbol. Both animals then became party mascots , but the donkey, unlike the elephant of the Republican Party, only unofficially.

See also


Web links

Commons : Donkey  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: donkey  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ SD White: Donkey Dermatology. In: Vet Clin Equine. 29, 2013, pp. 703-708. doi: 10.1016 / j.cveq.2013.08.002 ( full text , PDF)
  2. F. Burden, A. Thiemann: Donkeys Are Different. In: J Equine Vet Sci. 35, 2015, pp. 375-382. doi: 10.1016 / j.jevs.2015.03.005 ( full text , PDF)
  3. Gertrud, Helmut Denzau: Wildesel . Jan Thorbecke Verlag, Stuttgart 1999, ISBN 3-7995-9081-1 .
  4. David M. Sherman: Tending Animals in the Global Village: A Guide to International Veterinary Medicine . Wiley, 2002, ISBN 0-683-18051-7 , pp. 495 (English, limited preview in Google Book search).
  5. Donkey poaching: a growing global threat | Australian Veterinary Association. Retrieved March 22, 2019 .
  6. see leaflet no. 131.1 of the Veterinary Association for Animal Welfare eV on donkeys in social work with husbandry guidelines, as of Aug. 2013
  7. A. Zehm, A. Fölling, R. Reifenrath: Esel in der Landschaftspflege - experiences and tips for grazing practice. In: Nature concerns. 37 (1), 2015, pp. 55-66. (PDF 1.1 MB)
  8. State Commissioner for Animal Welfare, Lower Saxony Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Forests (ed.): Recommendations for keeping donkeys . Hanover April 1, 2000 ( [PDF; 703 kB ; accessed on August 23, 2017]).
  9. Matthew and the donkey
  10. In the Bible, the donkey is the pack, train and mount par excellence ( Memento from February 27, 2014 in the Internet Archive )
  11. Martin Vogel, 1973, p. 14.
  12. See, for example, the articles on the "Halle im Bild" page: Donkeys on roses in Leipziger Strasse ( memento from September 24, 2015 in the Internet Archive ), at the Marktkirche ( memento from March 21, 2017 in the Internet Archive ) the Eselsbrunnen ( memento from September 24, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) and at the St. Ulrich Church ( memento from September 24, 2015 in the Internet Archive ). Another picture (mosaic) is on Mansfelder Strasse. Halle's sculptors such as Richard Horn or Heinz Beberniß have also made this motif the subject of works of art. For this, see the website of the Saline Museum . The city's citizen prize was named after the legend "The donkey that goes on roses". See, for example, the German Engagement Prize ( Memento from March 4, 2016 in the Internet Archive ). There is also a donkey mill ( Memento from September 24, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) in the west of the city, whose roof turret shows the devil on a donkey and another sculpture called "Donkey and Uhu" Donkey and Eagle Owl ( Memento from September 24, 2015 in Internet Archive ) based on the fable by Ivan Andreevich Krylov .