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Extinction by NAIS


Windt im Wald Farm
Geauga County, Northeast Ohio
since 1995


Most of us can recognize a donkey. The very first donkey was thought to be the Syrian Wild Ass, whose descendants were described in both the Bible and in historical and literary accounts. In the Christmas story Mary rode a little donkey led by Joseph. In 16th century Spain the famous writer Cervantes wrote about Don Quixote and his sidekick, Sancho Panza, who rode a small donkey. Even George Washington used donkeys to produce mules for riding and for farm work. Some of us have come to know donkeys because of a children's novel called "Brighty of the Grand Canyon," based on the true story of a little gray donkey named Bright Angel, who wandered the North and South Rims of Arizona's Grand Canyon in the early 1900s.

Donkeys, known mostly from their long ears, the black markings across their withers and down their back, and their mostly-hairless tails with the tuft at the end, are classified by size: Miniature, Standard, Large Standard, and Mammoth. Male donkeys are called jacks, and female donkeys are jennets. The American Mammoth Donkey of today is the descendant of imported Maltese, Poitou, Andalusian, Majorcan, and Catalonian donkeys. The Maltese donkeys came from the island of Malta; they are most often no taller than 13.3 hands and black. The Poitou donkey, from France but thought to be descendants of Majorcan or Catalonian donkeys from Spain, have a long, curly coat of dark brown or black fur which is a real challenge to keep clean and sleek. Today's Poitou donkey is very rare, even in France, to the point of extinction. The Andalusian donkey, often between 14.2-15 hands, was primarily dappled grey and red roan, often with a large head, a thick jaw, and a Roman nose. The Catalonian donkey, always black, is finer-boned and less drafty-looking than the Andalusian variety, often 15 hands but fine of bone. Today there is only a very tiny number of Catalonian donkeys in Spain and in Mexico. The Majorcan donkey, also from Spain, is taller than the Maltese donkey. So many Majorcan donkeys were imported from Spain that there are no known populations in Spain today.

To be registered as Mammoth, the male donkey should be at least 14.2 hands, and the female should be at least 14.0 hands, about the size of a very large riding pony. According to the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, fewer than 1000 Mammoth donkeys are registered in the United States each year, making them quite rare. When machinery and tractors were introduced to American farms during the 1940s and 1950s, the Mammoth donkey, like working horse breeds used for farm work, was nearly lost. Today the Mammoth donkey can be black, chestnut, spotted, dun, white, dapple gray, bay, or palomino, and some may even have a four-beat gait like a Tennessee Walking Horse. The chestnut color is very common in Mammoth donkeys that are built like draft horses. This month's Mammoth jack is a chestnut roan; the areas around the eyes, up the legs, and on the underside of the body are lighter in color than the other regions of his body.

One of the better known Mammoth Jacks of the twentieth century was Jen-Jack, a gray Mammoth bought as a jack foal by a Mr. Berry from Willis Grumbein of Dodge City, Kansas. Mr. Berry had such bad eyesight that he believed he had bought a jennet foal. When visitors to Mr. Berry's farm observed that the jennet foal was really a jack foal, Mr. Berry decided to name him Jen-Jack. Jen-Jack sired some well-known Mammoth donkeys, among them, Bully Boy, Amarillo Slim, Finally Friday, Too Tall Jones, and Bramoth Ebony.

The Mammoth Jack has come a long way from the first little Syrian Wild Ass. He has evolved into a tall, sturdy, reliable equine capable of doing an honest day's work in the fields, showing in halter and performance classes, and carrying riders for a pleasurable ride. He also has his own fan club, the North American Saddle Mule Association (NASMA), one of whose famous members is the noted veterinarian, author, and horse-training clinician, Dr. Robert Miller.

Diane Jones
Windt im Wald Farm

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