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About Donkeys

Balkan Donkey

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Perissodactyla
Family: Equidae
Genus: Equus
Subspecies: Asinus

The Balkan donkey is a domestic animal found wordwide. It descends from African donkey (Equus asinus), whereas the Asian donkey (Equus homionus) has never been domesticated.

The Balkan donkey is an autochtonous primitive species. The body weight of the grown-up males reaches 250kg, whilst the females weigh up to 200kg. The height of the neck with males amounts approximately 100cm, females amounting to 95cm. The colour of skin may be grey, brown, dark- grey and reddish- brown. As regards feeding, it is not very demanding since it is satisfied with a small amount of bad and bulky food , whereas it can work for hours. It is widespread in the mountainous regions of Serbia and Montenegro.

Taxonomy category: species
Status: domesticated
Origin: autochtonous domesticated species
Area: Sremska Mitrovica, Kovilj, Subotica, Dimitrovgrad
In-situ conservation programme: yes
Degree of extinction: endangered species
Total population size: 1000 (average estimate)
Total amount of female heads of breeding stock: 200
Total amount of male heads of breeding stock: 20
Population trend: on decrease
The data source on the population size: The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Waterpower Engineering
Reliability of the available data: unreliable
Weight of the grown-up male (approximately in kilograms): 250
The weight of the grown-up female (approximately in kilograms): 200
The height of the neck of the grown-up male (approximately in kilograms):100
The height of the neck of the grown-up female (approximately in kilograms): 95
Colour: grey, brown, dark-grey, reddish-brown
Characteristic visible traits:
Breeding and control: republic, regional and basic selection services


In comparison with domestic horses, the donkey hoofs are accommodated to rocky and rough surface. They provide them safe support, but they are not very suitable for running. Nevertheless, donkeys can reach the speed of 50km per hour in extreme cases. Donkeys originate from dry regions. That is the reason why the hoofs are not adapted to humid climate of Central Europe and they are prone to cracking and causing deep holes in the hoof which may lead to decaying. Regular and thorough control of hoofs is of vital importance for donkeys. The fur colour is grey or brown to black, sometimes even reddish. In addition, donkeys can be found in different colours. Rarely can you find totally white donkeys (except for the islands of Asinara near Sicily where there is Austria-Hungarian albino or a Baroque donkey). Their legs are sometimes zebra-striped, their stomack white, just like the areas around the eyes and the snout. Most of the donkeys have upright mane and a tail which ends in a big tuft. Their ears are much bigger than the horses’ ones.

Depending on the breed, the shoulder height varies from 90 to 160cm , and they reach sexual maturity between the ages of 2 and 2 and a half. Mating is possible throughtout the year, but as a rule, it happens in spring. After the gestation period lasting from 12 to 14 months one offspring is usually borne, whilst sometimes twins may be borne. The period lasts from 6 to 9 months. Donkeys, as a rule, have higher life expectancy than horses and may even live up to 40 years old.


Apart from outer differences between donkeys and horses, there are also differences relating to their characteristics which are not visible at first sight. In the lumbar part, the donkeys have 5 instead of 6 spine vertebrae like horses. Donkeys have 31 chromosomes pairs, whereas horses have 32 pairs. A donkey’s body temperature is somewhat lower than the human’s, approximately lower than 37 degrees Centigrade, whereas with horses it ranges between 37.5 and 38.2 degrees Centigrade. The gestation period of donekys is somewhat longer than that of horses, and it lasts from 365 days to 370 days on average, compared with horses where it lasts only 330 days.

Wild donkeys and domestic donkeys that have become wild

Just like with horses you should distinguish wild from domestic donkeys who have become wild. In the past the African donkey found in several subspecies used to have its habitats in the regions from North Africa up to the Middle East, whereas nowadays, only a few hundred of species live in the southeast of Africa (Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan).

Donkeys which have become wild live in many regions of the world. They can be found even in regions which are inhabited with real wild donkeys which are considered to be endangered. There is a danger that these two groups may mingle and destroy the genetic purity of wild donkeys. In the Australia there are around 1.5 million domestic donkeys who have become wild, whereas in the southwest of the USA you can find around 6000 of similar donkeys called burros ( The Spanish donkey). They have been protected there like a historical symbol, but that solution is arguable because the protection of donkeys is believed to lead to the decrease in the number ofAmerican mouflons due to mutual competition for food and water. One of the rare populations of donkeys who have become wild live in the north of Cyprus. Their skin colour is dark brown and even black and they often have zebra-striped legs. They are significatnly bigger than other donkeys who have recently become wild.


The latest DNK research confirm previous theories about the phylogenesis of donkeys proving that all present donkeys originate from an African donkey. The donkeys had been domesticated long before the horses and had been the first animals that the man used for carrying goods. Actually, 4000 years BC in the Nile valey in Egypt, the Nubian wild donkey had been domesticated. Shortly after that the domestication was continued in Mesopotamia. During the antiquity donkeys reached Europe. The Ethrurians used to have a domestic donkey which had probably come from the Middle East. It first arrived to Greece 1000 years B.C.

In the beginning, the donkeys had been used for riding and as pack animals. Later on, they were replaced with horses which were much stronger. After that, the trace of donkeys was lost in old civilizations. Its later appearance and the use for pack transport, above all, was the result of its endurability. Namely, a donkey can endure without water and food much longer than a horse. To the north of the Alps, a domestic donkey appeared in the Roman times.

Apart from the abovementioned facts, people used domestic donkeys for food. The donkey milk was also used, as well as their skin. In the Middle Ages the donkey’s skin had been regarded to have been particularly good for parchment making.

Symbolic and Mythological Connotations

In the fables and fairy tales a donkey is a stubborn, and very often stupid animal. Therefore, the word donkey is at present used in the pejorative sense. In the allegory about the Buridan’s donkey, a donkey dies of hunger, because he could not decide between the two equally good haystacks to eat.

In the regions of South Africa and Mesopotamia donkeys had been worshipped as deities.

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