It sounds like a made-up word, but a “zonkey” is in fact a real animal. Every few years, you’ll hear about the birth of a rare zonkey, such as that of April 2014, when video surfaced of a zonkey that was born in Mexico. Zonkeys are half zebra and half donkey.
A “zonkey” (also known as a zedonk or zebroid) is a cross between a zebra and a donkey. This creature is rare because donkeys and zebras have a different number of chromosomes, and were once believed to be an incompatible species. Zonkeys typically have a number of chromosomes in between that of a donkey and a zebra, and are infertile as a result of their divergent genetics. In a 2013 article from ABC News, veterinarian Robert Benson explained the crossbreeding of zonkeys and their infertility with the following quote:
It’s similar to when a female horse and a male donkey mate and give birth to a mule… The female still cycles and comes into heat… They can go through the motions and they have the parts. They just don’t reproduce.
According to an article in the Guardian, crossbreeding of species resulting in creatures such as the zonkey is typically disparaged by many zoo communities. A spokeswoman for Moscow zoo, Anna Kachurovskaya, was quoted as saying, “Such things don’t happen in civilized zoos, but can occur at private zoos or on farms… This sort of marketing is not justified or scientific … zoos are for preserving wild species, that is one of their most important goals.”
Khumba the Zonkey
This particular specimen, named “Khumba” was born on April 21, 2014 in Mexico and weighed 26 kilograms. His parents include a female zebra named “Rayas” from a zoo, and an albino, blue-eyed dwarf donkey from a nearby farm. Zonkeys are usually sired by a zebra stallion, but in Khumba’s case, it was the donkey who sired the offspring. Khumba resembles a donkey on its upper body, but displays the characteristic zebra stripes on its legs.
You can see Khumba in the video below.
A similar-looking zonkey named Allison was born back in 2005 in Barbados.
Half zebra and half donkey, zonkeys are a rare crossbreed. Zonkeys are sterile due to having different DNA and chromosomes than either a donkey or zebra species. It has been reported that such crossbreeding of species is criticized by many zoos. In early 2014, a zonkey born in Mexico named Khumba became a media sensation.
Updated May 21, 2016
First published April 2014