Super-cute baby zonkey, not for sale, probably sterile

Half zebra and half donkey, the fuzzy little zonkey named Ippo was born one week ago on an animal reserve near Florence, Italy.

The zonkey is not the brainchild of some deranged Dr. Moreau-like figure trying to put two animals of a different species together, but rather is the product of good old-fashioned natural lust.

In an interview with the Italian news channel RTV38 (which you can see above), a member of the family that owns the reserve described a romantic love affair between a female donkey and a male zebra that was adopted after it was confiscated from a failing zoo.

The zebra probably jumped the metal fence that separated the two animals to mate with the neighboring donkey.

The owners of the reserve also said that baby Ippo is not for sale. The zonkey may not have been intended, but they have already fallen in love with it.

Zonkeys are rare, but Ippo is not the first donkey-zebra hybrid. In fact, all members of the horse family are able to interbreed, said Bruce Christensen, the chief of veterinary fertility at UC Davis.

"There is very good documentation of crosses between the domestic horses and domestic donkeys, horses and zebras, and donkeys and zebras," he said.

Zebra and donkey hybrids have even been known to occur in the wild, when a herd of wild zebra encounters a herd of domesticated donkeys, he said.

All this inter-species breeding is well known, but it is not completely understood because the different members of the horse family do not have the same number of chromosomes.

"You would think that to create something viable, the number of chromosomes would have to line up with each other," Christensen said. " But, somehow, in the horse species, it doesn't matter."

Ippo's mismatched chromosome pairs won't make the little zonkey any less healthy than a full donkey or full zebra, but it will probably render the zonkey infertile.

Christensen assured me that Ippo's mom is not likely to reject the little zonkey just because it is not the exact same species as her. "Their maternal instincts are very strong, and it wouldn't matter if her offspring had stripes or not," he said.

He added that Ippo's personality is likely to incorporate pieces of both the zonkey's donkey mother and zebra father. So young Ippo may be a little easier to tame than a typical zebra, and a little less stubborn than a typical donkey.