Donkeys can be from 2.5 to 5 feet in height and can weigh from 180 to 1,060 pounds. The size and weight vary so much because not all donkeys are well-cared for. This factor affects a number of its attributes such as their lifespan. Donkeys found in poor countries that do nothing but work for their living generally tend to not last much longer than 15 years; however, a well-pampered donkey of one of the more prosperous nations can live as long as 50 years! So, we certainly cannot blame them for dying too fast.
Donkeys are also known for having very large ears. There are a couple of reasons for this. The first and most obvious reason would be for adept hearing. Donkeys like to keep in contact with their friends, and since many of them are usually too busy working, they make a loud call--called a bray--to contact other donkeys in the area. Their ears can pick up distant sounds which helps with the communication. Whether or not they are saying anything meaningful leaves me with a lot of doubts; however, it is still fun to think of them catching up on how heavy today's cart pull may have been.
The second reason their ears are so big is to keep them cool. Remember that donkeys are commonly used in desert lands where it is very hot. Having big receptacles to catch wind in is a great idea. It's not really so much an air conditioning thing as much as it is to cool their blood. Who wants hot donkey blood anyhow? I sure don't.
There is misconception that donkeys are stubborn, lazy, and stupid animals. A lot of this comes from people not understanding the difference between horses and donkeys. Horses are strong loyal animals who have formed a trust between themselves and man. Donkeys have more of a prey mentality. They do not trust anyone--including a man--unless there is a very good reason for it. When someone treats them poorly, their reaction is to freeze up in cowardice.
Donkey's do not deal with negative reinforcement well. Some people think that hitting a donkey is a good way to teach it to do what they want. In truth, it kills any interest they have in helping at all. This reaction is ironically based on self-preservation. "To help the man giving me beatings will only invite more beatings," is a good way to look at it. In truth, a well-treated donkey is very giving and eager to learn. They tend to want to please a man who gives them treats and provides them with a comfortable living. Positive reinforcement is the way to go. In this environment, we learn that donkeys are not only intelligent but also very playful and loyal companions.
Fiction has so many donkeys that I cannot be expected to list every one of them, but I am going to give you a bunch. Likely the most famous donkey ever has to be Eeyore from the 1926 book "Winnie the Pooh" and following series by A. A. Milne. You may have also seen him in the Disney cartoons. Here is one heck of a depressed donkey that pretty much mopes about everything. I sometimes get the impression that Eeyore is a sleeper favorite among fans. People might say they are Tigger fans, but in secret, they are cheering on their favorite donkey. My personal favorite moment with him was when Pooh and Piglet gave him the world's crappiest birthday present--an empty jar and a popped balloon--and because he was accustomed to being ignored, the tokens pleased him more than anything else could have.
Way back in 1605, a Spanish fellow named Migel de Cervantes wrote a book called "Don Quixote" about a crazy fellow who acted like he was a knight of old in a modern era. Lucky for him, he still got to ride a horse, but his sidekick Sancho had to make do with a donkey named Dapple. I think the name is cute. There was a very good children's movie called "Donkey Xote" (2007) which tells the donkey's story; although, in this film, the donkey was named Rucio. The film really did not follow the book at all, but it was surprisingly relevant in narrative.
Who could forget the character simply called Donkey from the 2001 movie Shrek? Eddie Murphy really brought a lot to this character. I mean really... this is exactly what it would be like if Eddie was a donkey. Donkeys are usually known for being something like horses with no class. If you put a donkey in a situation where they are mere vagabonds in need of a home and food, you have accomplished this trope, and I see no problem with this. Donkey was a lot of fun, and I always looked forward to seeing what he would do and say in the sequels.
My favorite donkey film is "A Small One," a 1978 Disney short film. The donkey in the film was actually called The Small One, and he had grown very old and had become a burden to his owners. The main unnamed boy of the movie was tasked with selling him to a tanner, but the boy loved the donkey and could not send The Small One to his death. I will stop hear as to not spoil the ending, but it is one of the most moving films I have seen.
The comment about no class horses from the previous paragraph is probably one of the reasons I love the donkey. They are stuck in lower class, and life becomes more and more ironic to them as they pass the days by. Where it is true that I could make a more realistic depiction of donkeys as characters based on their intelligence and loyalty, I am fonder of the established bias. I like a stubborn donkey. I like donkeys to be jealous of their horsey betters. Donkeys have been used in old fables to show the difference between the workers and the beggars. I think this lesson should remain at the forefront of donkey lore.
What can I say?! I think donkeys are cute! I like the big ears and funny personalities. I am inspired by characters made of them in fiction. I even like the false tropes created in fables of old. However, I do hope next time you see a donkey, you will look upon him a little better. He's only doing the best he can. All he wants is a carrot to eat once in a while.
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|Dapple and Sancho|
|Rucio on far right (Donkey Xote)|
|The Small One|