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The History of the Donkey

Did donkeys help in the construction of the Great Pyramids? Did they help Columbus in discovering the New World, and did they also play a role in the California Gold Rush? The answers to these questions are YES—donkeys have contributed to world history in many ways.

Here are some historical facts from all of us at Oscar’s Place in Hopland, CA—a new donkey sanctuary that started last October and is already changing the world one donkey at a time.

The first findings of donkeys come from archaeological records and ancient art. In the Egyptian tomb of King Tutankhamen, archaeologists found depictions of donkey hunts. Donkeys were used for many purposes in the ancient times. Not only were these animals hunted but they were also domesticated. They provided a means of transportation for agricultural goods and humans themselves.

The domesticated donkey is believed to be the descendent of the wild ass, Equus Africanus. More specifically, donkeys come from the Somali and Nubian wild asses. The first captivity of the wild ass was in Egypt and western Asia dated back as early as 2800 B.C. to 2500 B.C. It was not until 1000 B.C. that the donkey became the common means of transportation through Egypt, Asia, and parts of Europe.

Donkeys even found their way to the New World through the voyage of Christopher Columbus. He aided in the migration of these animals when he brought four males and two females to America. Once in the Americas, they were bred and produced mule offspring. The mules were used by the Spanish throughout their conquests. It was not until the gold rush that donkeys become increasingly important in America. During this time, donkeys were used for hauling gold around the mountainous mines.

The domestication of donkeys continues to be important today. They are used for transportation of agricultural goods, building materials, and people all over the world.

In 1929, miniature donkeys came to the United States. Although not as strong, miniature donkeys are used for the same main purposes as regular donkeys. They are able to carry a hundred-pound load of goods and produce, wagons, or a passenger. They also make great pet companions or guard animals because they are very loyal. The picture to the right is a black miniature jennet at the Elms Farm.

Donkeys do not form lasting bonds but mate sexually during the summer months. They generally give birth in the spring because the gestation period is about eleven months. If they are a part of a herd, mothers tend to give birth away from the others and return three months after the birthing process. A baby foal is fully developed at birth then grows from its mother's milk until it finally matures and is weaned after a year. After two years, the foal is now considered to be sexually mature and can produce offspring of its own. The life span for wild donkeys is generally 25-30 years. Captive donkeys, on the other hand, can live up to 40-50 years.

Sources: Wikipedia and

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