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Zowee! It’s a zonky

Pin the tail on the what? The age-old children’s game might be in for some changes.

What do you get when you cross a zebra with a donkey? A zonkey.

A zebra and a pony create a zonie and for the rest of the equestrian population bred with zebras, remove the first letter and replace it with a “z.”



Believe it or not, zonkeys are being purchased for $3,500 to $4,500 apiece. Zebras can climb into the $10,000 range.

Red Peterson, owner of the Critter Ranch in Shingle Springs breeds the interesting animals that can be seen roaming his 20-acre ranch from the road. Red doesn’t advertise or show his animals in competitions, but he does breed them and sell their offspring to interested parties.




Crossbreeding zebras and donkeys is not a new idea. In 1853 a volume of The Naturalists Library depicts a combination breed of the two equines.

The idea first popped into Red’s head when his father took him to visit the Little Rock, Ark. zoo when he was 6 years old. It was there he saw his first zebra. “I remember thinking, I like those stripes,” Red said. He is not the only one.

“People love the stripes and the color and are able to handle them better than zebras,” said Red’s girlfriend, Gloria Orfelia. From the looks of the skiddish Zarla, a 3-month-old baby zebra, it is easy to see that tame zebras behave nothing like domesticated horses. Breeders claim that zebras are bred with animals like donkeys because zebras are typically temperamental wild animals who aren’t easy to handle.

Red said curiosity initially brings people up to the fence to gawk at the exotic animals, but eventually buy them for their well-mannered demeanor and, well, their stripes.

Asked if visitors think the big-eared, coarser-haired, oddly striped animals are a strange sight, Red replied, “Oh yeah, but they thought it was a lot stranger when I had a camel here for awhile.” (Don’t worry – no breeding experiments occurred with the camel.)

Red successfully bred his first zonkey out of a donkey mare and a Grant zebra stud in 1986 and he hasn’t stopped breeding since. A recent cross between Zella, a zebra mare, and Touchdown, a donkey stallion, bore a zonkey named Wild and Zany.

Approaching the 81-year-old mark, Red still cares for more than 20 animals, including six zonkeys, three zonies, and five zebras. “I’m tired, not retired,” he said. But it is not a hobby, he said, it is a full-time responsibility.

Red has trained zonkeys and zebras to drive his wood-framed wagon. They drive in parades, for birthday parties and for weddings.

Children love the animals and Red doesn’t have a problem with kids piling from ear to tail on top of Pretzel, the zonkey who never seems to mind. Red brings school classes to his ranch and also takes the animals to science fairs where he explains the process of crossbreeding.

Red said most zoos tend to oppose zebra hybrids.

Jim Schnormeier, the general curator for the Sacramento Zoo, said the zoo profession does not approve of putting two unnatural species together to breed. He said this phenomenon is based solely on oddity and novelty. He cautioned that in some cases crossbreeds can cause health deficiencies in the animals.

Gloria received the exact opposite reaction from the Folsom Zoo when she applied to train for an internship. “They were wonderful,” she said. Instead of being concerned about the animals that were bred, they were pleased she had worked so closely with the animals during the breeding process.

Red’s philosophy is quite simple, “If it (breeding) makes a better animal for you, and one you like, why not do it?”

Gloria says that the Critter Ranch conducts a program that focuses on three experiments.

The first concentrates on breeding a donkey stallion with a zebra mare. In this experiment the baby zonkeys seem to carry more striping, but are hesitant to approach people. “They’ll come around out of curiosity,” Gloria said.

The second experiment pairs a zebra stallion with a donkey mare. This newborn yields less striping, but a better attitude. “The baby is easier to handle sooner,” she continued.

The final project was the use of artificial insemination instead of the breeding chute. The couple were using samples from their zebra stallion, Bumble Bee, but he recently died. For the time being the project is on hold.


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