John Mattingly: Socratic Rancher 7-23-12
The occasional cross-breeding of a mammoth ass and a mare zebra is sometimes referred to as a “referee” in American Football.
I always thought this was a joke. When watching the Broncos, a bad call is inevitably made, and I hear one of my friends holler: “Look at that! Look at that! Is that zebrass legally blind, medically blind, or was he born blind?”
It turns out, however, that zebra-donkey crosses have excellent eyesight, though they do not exist in great numbers, mainly because wild zebras are difficult to handle in captivity. However, when a young zebra is raised among donkeys, mating is not only possible, but interestingly enough, when a tame zebra grows up with donkeys, the zebra prefers to mate, and associate, with donkeys rather than with other zebras.
A cross between a zebra stallion and a jenny is variously called a zedonk or zebadonk if the offspring is male, and a zonkey or zebryde if a female. The cross between a jack and a mare zebra is called a zenkey if male and a zebret if female, though in Japan, all zebra-donkey crosses are known as a zenkeys, and in Israel as hamzebs, and in Europe most zebra-donkey crosses are called zebrasses, which may be where American football fans picked up the terminology.
Zebra-donkey crosses resemble the donkey in all respects except they exhibit leg bands and faint shoulder and midsection banding. The hybrid offspring are typically sterile.
I.G. Wood, author of the Illustrated “Natural History” (1853, 1874) wrote, “Between the zebras and the domestic ass several curious ‘Mules’ have been produced, and may be seen in the collection of the British Museum. It is worthy of notice that whenever a crossbreed has taken place, the influence of the male parent seems to be permanently impressed on the mother, who in her subsequent offspring imprints upon them some characteristics of the interloper.”
The first donkey-zebra cross of record was born in Schoenbrunn, Germany in 1841.
Then, in 1929, a Grevy zebrass appeared, a zebra stallion crossed with a female Somali Ass. The Grevy’s zebrass stallion was introduced to America by King Menelik of Abyssina as a gift to President Teddy Roosevelt. The stallion lived in the Natural Zoo and was called a “Hyney,’ adding yet another attribution to this unusual hybrid.
The Grevy Zebra, native of the Galla District of Africa is known to be the fastest, wildest, and most fierce of the zebras, and this particular zebrass was the result of crossing the Grevy zebra with the slowest, tamest, and most calm of the jenneys, the Rocky Mountain Burro. The resulting creature possessed the best of both parents, appearing to be handsome, strong of will, and yet amicable to humans in working situations.
Final confirmation of the zebra-donkey cross appears in the writings of Charles Darwin: “I have seen in the British Museum, a hybrid from the ass and zebra dappled on its hinder quarters. Many years ago I saw in the Zoological Gardens a curious triple hybrid, from a bay mare, by a hybrid from male ass and female zebra.” ❖