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Creation 26(3):56, June 2004

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Zenkey, zonkey, zebra donkey!


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A zoo in Japan has proudly announced the birth of a zebra-donkey hybrid, describing it as a ‘zenkey’—a story excitedly picked up and relayed around the world by news media.1

Actually, the offspring of a zebra stallion and donkey mare (jenny) is more usually defined as a ‘zonkey’ or ‘zedonk’, or even ‘zebrass’. But whether zenkey, zonkey or zedonk, the appearance of this little foal sure caused a stir at Nasu Safari Park (near Tokyo).

‘As we keep herbivorous animals without separating them, the unbelievable can happen’, said Osamu Ishikawa, deputy head of the safari park. ‘A donkey was pregnant and everybody was expecting a donkey foal.’

But the keepers were surprised when, in August 2003, a striped foal was born! Was it a donkey, or … ? It had a donkey’s ears, and the black cross mark on its withers2 is characteristic of donkey foals, but oh … those stripes! [Photo available in Creation magazine.]

This is not the first time that the arrival of a half-zebra foal from a non-zebra mare has surprised observers

This is not the first time the arrival of a half-zebra foal from a non-zebra mare has surprised observers. A Shetland pony astonished its UK owners by giving birth to a half-zebra, half-horse foal—a ‘zorse’ or ‘zony’.3 The owners had earlier purchased the pony from a wildlife park, where, like the donkey mare at Nasu Safari Park, it had shared a field with a male zebra.

This ability of donkeys, horses and zebras to breed with one another indicates they all descended from the same original created ‘kind’, as specified in Genesis 1.4 This again helps us understand that Noah needed far fewer animals on the Ark than sceptics claim. Only two animals (maybe not horses as we know them today) were needed to represent the equine kind on the Ark.5

Some people might argue that because hybrid offspring are often sterile, the horse, ass and zebra must therefore be separate created kinds. But this definition goes beyond the biblical text—no-one would say that a human male/female couple unable to have children must therefore be separate species!

Accounts of mules giving birth show they are not always infertile

Infertility in hybrid offspring can be due to rearrangements of chromosomes. Such (non-evolutionary) changes within the horse kind sees zebras today with 44 chromosomes, donkeys 62, and horses 64—so mules, the offspring of donkeys and horses, are often sterile as they end up with 63 chromosomes, which theoretically cannot divide into chromosome pairs.

However, accounts of mules giving birth6 show they are not always infertile, and also demonstrate that the genetics in such cases is not yet fully understood. Occasional fertile hybrids such as these strengthen the case that all Equus species and their offspring (mules, hinnies, zorses, zonies, zedonks/zonkeys and whatever other inventive names we give them) are the same created kind—descendants of the ‘horses’ that Noah let loose after the Flood around 4,500 years ago.

References and notes

  1. Zenkey foal a hybrid star, Sydney Morning Herald, <www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/08/28/1062050609625.html>, 2 October 2003. Return to text.
  2. The highest part of a horse’s back, lying at the base of the neck above the shoulders. Return to text.
  3. Shetland–Zebra hybrid, Creation 24(1):9, 2001. Return to text.
  4. Batten, D., Ligers and wholphins—what next? Creation 22(3):28–33, 2000. Return to text.
  5. Assuming that Noah understood ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ the same way that God later decreed to Moses (Leviticus 11:3–4, 26; Deuteronomy 14:6), only one pair of ‘horses’, not seven, were needed (Genesis 7:2). Return to text.
  6. Mule gives birth, Creation 25(2):9, 2003. Return to text.

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Readers’ comments

Robert B.
The count of kinds that the Ark needed to accommodate grows smaller. It's vastly smaller than the number of named species.

That such distinctly different creatures as zebras and donkeys could arise so quickly after the flood implies a designed-in capacity for prespecified adaptations instead of a more gradual phenomenon driven only by random selection of sing attributes.

BTW, I hope someone tries a housecat/tiger hybrid. These animals are so behaviorally and anatomically similar that I bet their offspring would be completely fertile.
David Catchpoole
Your final sentence would be more correctly put as follows: "A housecat/tiger offspring would be a nice demonstration of their being of the same 'cat' kind."

Some wild/domestic hybridisation has already been done. The following breeds of cat have been derived from successfully hybridising domestic cats with some of the smaller varieties of wild cats:

Bengal – domestic cat/Asian Leopard Cat
Chausie – domestic cat/Jungle Cat
Safari – domestic cat/Geoffroy’s Cat
Savannah – domestic cat/Serval

The issue of whether hybrid offspring are fertile is a different matter, however. One of the factors causing 'infertility' arises when cats with differing chromosome numbers are hybridised, giving rise to offspring with intermediate chromosome numbers. E.g. the Safari has 37 chromosomes--an intermediate between a domestic cat (38 chromosomes) and Geoffroy's cat (36 chromosomes). Geoffroy's cat is part of the ocelot lineage (which includes also the oncilla, margay, Pampas Cat and probably also the Andean mountain cat) which all, as far as is known, have 36 chromosomes. Lions, tigers and their various hybrids (ligers, tigons, liligers, litigons, tiligers, titigons) all have 38 chromosomes. A female puma (38 chromosomes) and a male ocelot (36 chromosomes) produced four litters (at least) at a private zoo in the 1980s, but as far as I know, none of the offspring produced any offspring themselves. However, the offspring bridged the gap between the larger and smaller cats (the female puma was three times larger than the male ocelot), showing the 'big cats' and small cats are of the same kind.

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