Roadside Find: Zedonk (or Is It a Donkra?)

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Exotic fauna of Sutter County: a zebroid on the hoof (click for larger images).

We’re in the bittersweet last day or so of our joint spring break (Kate from the demanding world of public education, me from the somewhat less demanding world of public broadcasting). At the beginning of the week, we went on a mini road trip to see a relatively little-visited natural wonder I’d read about in the paper a few weeks (Feather Falls–more on that later). We wound up spending a day driving up to one of the state’s big reservoirs, Lake Oroville, a day hiking, then another day winding our way back down to the Bay Area.

There’s a certain part of the Sacramento Valley I’ve gotten to know from riding a bicycle through it–generally the area on the southern half or so of the valley, from the state capital up to about Chico. The most striking visual feature of that part of the state, almost everyone would agree, is the volcanic remnant rising up from the floor of the valley, known now as the Sutter Buttes. Someone sometime in the distant past–probably Ripley’s Believe-It-or-Not, probably in the 1940s–designated the buttes, which rise to a maximum elevation of just over 2,100 feet and cover about 75 square miles, “the smallest mountain range in the world.”

One thing about the buttes: though a piece of the central buttes is now public land, access is across private land and thus only possible by appointment–either on a pre-arranged tour or with researchers (a public-radio colleague, Molly Samuel, got in a while back with some biologists studying an animal I had never heard of before: the ringtail). So what the public gets to do, generally, is drive around the perimeter. So Wednesday, that’s what we did, retracing a path I’ve ridden a few times in the past. West of Yuba City, just outside the little town of Sutter, we had our own exotic animal encounter.

Passing a farmyard, Kate called out, “Is that a zebra?” I missed whatever she had seen, but when I looked over, I saw a couple of llamas (more and more common on ranches here) and, very uncommon, a camel. A camel? A zebra? I turned around to take a look.

The “zebra” was pretty clearly a hybrid of some kind–probably a cross between a zebra and a donkey. She, or perhaps he, certainly looked like a donkey and had the docile, inquisitive nature of a donkey, coming right over to the fence to check out Scout (a.k.a The Dog). We checked out some of the other animals on the premises–some odd-looking goats, a pygmy donkey of some sort, the llamas, a few horses, the aforementioned camel, and a pack of furious dogs that seemed to contain at least one labradoodle.

Wikipedia says zebra/equine hybrids–known generally as zebroids–have a long history and even drew Darwin’s attention. The names for the crosses are many, including zonkey, donkra, zedonk, zebonkey, zebronkey, zebrinny, zebrula, zebrass, and zebadonk. I came up with my own term: variegated ass.

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