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Miniature Mediterranean Donkeys
Miniature Mediterranean Donkeys are a naturally small donkey that originated on Sicily and Sardinia. They are not true genetically dwarf animals, nor has man purposely bred them down in size from regular donkeys. They appear to be the result of insular dwarfism, a term used by biologists and paleontologists to describe island animals that naturally shrink in size due to their genetics being isolated and the benefits smaller animals would have over larger ones where food may be limited (thus perpetuating the smaller animals for future breeding populations.) Other examples of this phenomena are breeds of miniature cattle and sheep from the UK, the dwarfed sauropod dinosaurs of former islanded Germany, the now extinct dwarf elephant of the Mediterranean islands, and the also extinct "hobbit people" of the Indonesian islands.
Miniature donkeys have an ideal measurement of 30-34 inches at their shoulders, a size not dissimilar to miniature horses. They come in several colors including light dun, dun, dark dun, light gray dun, dark gray dun, brown, light brown, dark brown, sorrel, light sorrel, dark sorrel, brown-black, black, white, cream, piebald, and skewbald. The latter two colors are white with darker spotting. They can live past forty years of age if taken care of properly and Jennets can get pregnant as early as nine months of age, but breeding is strongly discouraged until the Jennet is at least three years of age when she is fully done maturing and growing. This avoids difficult calving, clueless mothering, and some other health problems. They can continue to bare offspring into their twenties.
In the 18th century (and likely a good deal before) miniature donkeys were brought into peasant homes and hooked up to grinding stones which they would push to help produce flour. Today miniature donkeys can be bred for jobs including being pets, pack, show, cart, riding (for small children) and occasionally one may be employed guarding other livestock. Their docile personalities and gentle intelligence make them ideal for working with people and children. However they are herd animals by nature and demand not only lavished attention from their adoring owners but also the companionship of other donkeys. Males are usually gelded (the equine equivalent of neutering) to make better pets unless they're being held back to breed.
The miniature donkey is much loved by many American and UK enthusiasts, as well a few scattered among the world, but they are nearly extinct in their native Sardinia and Sicily. The donkeys that remain are mostly animals with poor conformation. It's lucky that in 1929 a man by the name of Robert Greene had 25-30 of these donkeys shipped to the US to live and breed on his stud farm in New Jersey. Since then at least 500 of these American bred donkeys have been shipped to the UK and likely many others have found residence across the globe. Unlike so many other miniature livestock breeds the miniature donkey doesn't appear to have ever been under the threat of worldwide extinction. If anything they are gaining in popularity because of their suitability as pets and companion animals.
A Note of Thanks
All images used in this article are courtasey of Easy Acres Farm in Kentucky.