The donkey is a member of the Equidae or horse family, and an odd-toed ungulate. The words donkey and ass are applied to the domesticated E. asinus. The animal considered to be its wild ancestor is the African Wild Ass, also E. asinus. There are no species of the domesticated donkey in the wild and very few of their ancestors, the African Wild Ass. Donkeys were first domesticated around 3000 BC, approximately the same time as the horse, and have spread around the world. They continue to fill important roles in many places today and domesticated species are increasing in numbers.
Donkeys can be pregnant for up to 11 months. Donkeys will cross breed with other animals in the genus, such as horses, to produce mules which are sterile animals that will not breed.
Donkeys are adapted to marginal desert lands, and have many traits that are unique to the species as a result. Wild donkeys live separated from each other, unlike tight wild horse and feral horse herds. Donkeys have developed very loud vocalizations, which help keep in contact with other donkeys over the wide spaces of the desert. The best-known call is referred to as a “bray,” which can be heard for over 3 kilometres. Donkeys have larger ears than horses. Their longer ears may pick up more distant sounds and may help cool the donkey’s blood. Donkeys in the wild can defend themselves with a powerful kick of their hind legs, as well as by biting and striking with their front feet.
Donkeys are grazing animals at home in arid areas with poor quality feed. In captivity they feed on grass, grain, hay and fodder supplements similar to a horse’s diet.
Relatives of the donkey are almost extinct in the wild. The domesticated animals remain common throughout the world.