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Are Zebras Donkeys?

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You may not have noticed, but apart from their distinct colors and stripes, zebras do resemble donkeys in many ways. Some of us have wondered if that means that zebras are actually donkeys. They both have similar body types, tails, ears and they are both distinctively different in comparison to horses, so could it be?

Zebra vs. Donkey
Zebra vs. Donkey

Well, no! Zebras and donkeys are, however, related to one another and share physical traits that can account for this confusion.

Zebras are not donkeys. Like donkeys, zebras belong to the Equus genus of scientific animal classifications and they have a lot in common, but don’t be mistaken, zebras and donkeys are not the same animals.

Animal TypeGenusSubgenus
HorseEquusEquus
DonkeyEquusAsinus
ZebraEquusHippotigris

Zebras might not technically be donkeys, but they do possess a number of similarities, more than many people may realize. Sometimes their unique coloring prevents us from examining their other unique and hidden characteristics.

Beneath the stripes, zebras are a lot like donkeys, but also different in several ways. The more you learn about zebras and their relationship to donkeys, the more appreciation you will have for both species.

If zebras are not donkeys, what are they?

Zebras actually comprise three separate species all to their own. They are members of the Equus genus of animals, the same one that includes horses and donkeys. The three different species of the zebra family include the plains zebra, the mountain zebra and the Grévy’s zebra.

wild zebra

Zebras are prey animals that are most often hunted in the wild by lions and hyenas. In the wild, where most of them live, they are sometimes hunted for their meat by humans.

Zebras tend to have plump bodies, round-tipped ears, and manes that stick straight up, resembling mohawks. As for their distinctive coloring, zebras have black and white stripes on their bodies. The argument as to whether zebras are really white with black stripes or black with white stripes rages on even today! (source)

Are zebras related to donkeys?

Zebras are related to donkeys because they both belong to the same genus, Equus, the main animal classification category that groups and ranks species and their subfamilies.

The Equus genus encompasses all species of zebras, donkeys and horses.

Scientific studies have shown that long, long ago, the main Equus genus divided into two different categories. One group included all non-caballoids, the non-horse zebras and donkeys, and caballoids, which were the “true horses”. This split in their evolutionary past means that zebras are technically more closely related to donkeys than they are to horses! (source)

Can zebras and donkeys breed?

Yes! Interestingly enough, zebras and donkeys can breed and create a zebra-donkey hybrid known as a zonkey! Other popular names include zebonkey, zedonk, zebadonk, zebrinny, and zebrula.

Their coats will often carry both the stripes of the zebra parent along with the coloration of the donkey contributor. In the wild, this combination will rarely occur and only happens if both zebras and donkey live very closely to one another.

Zebra / Donkey Hybrid
Zebra / Donkey Hybrid

In domestic situations, these animals can breed more often, but they are not always successful. Another reality is that because zebras and donkeys are different species, the zonkey is almost always infertile and will not be able to breed other donkeys, zebras or zonkeys in the future. (source)

How are zebras and donkeys similar?

Zebras and donkeys have very similar body types. They both have plump bodies with potbellies and short heads with rounded ears. They have tails that have tufts of hair at the end of them instead of being covered in flowing hair like a horse.

Both donkeys and zebras have manes that naturally stick straight upwards, unlike a horse’s mane that grows long and lays down on its neck. Both animals have eyes that sit on the sides of their heads which allow them to see much more of their surroundings.

They are both prey animals that are hunted by whichever type of predators inhabits their area. Zebras and donkeys both graze on fields, are herbivores, and their attitude can often be unpredictable and even stubborn!

donkeys

How are zebras different from donkeys?

Zebras are different from donkeys in a number of ways.

  • Size: Zebras are larger than donkeys but on average, they do not live near as long as donkeys do.
  • Color: While donkeys are often various shades of grey and brown, zebras are almost always black and white with stripes covering their bodies.
  • Behavior When Threatened: Like donkeys, zebras are also prey to hungry predators, but they respond differently to them. A zebra will run from predators, most often in a zig-zag pattern. Donkeys, on the other hand, are more likely to stand their ground and attempt to fight before fleeing.
  • Domestication: Zebras are not domesticated animals, while donkeys have been domesticated for many years. Most zebras are wild, and although many live in captivity, they have never been truly domesticated.

Final thoughts

Zebras are not donkeys, but they are very similar! They have a lot more in common with donkeys than they do with horses. So, while zebras are more like donkeys than horses, they are not technically donkeys. Zebras are a species all to their own and they have unique characteristics that separate them from the rest of the Equus family.

April Lee

I've owned horses for 25 years and have a particular love for gentling wild horses. I write these articles to help others learn more about horses. If you enjoyed the article please take a moment to pin it to Pinterest or share on social media. It really does help! Check out my about page for more detailed information.