Napoleon, Antosia, and All About Donkeys

Napoleon and AntosiaLast night, Rachel Maddow did a segment on Napoleon and Antosia[1], two donkeys at the Poznan Zoo, in Poland. These donkeys have been a couple for a decade and have had six children during that time. The most recent was this year. But some people complained because it turns out — and this is shocking — in order for a jenny (female donkey) to have a foal, a jack (male donkey) must have sex with her. What’s more, donkey’s don’t even have the decency to us the missionary position.

Oh! My! God!

Can you imagine?! This was being seen by children — human children, specifically. So some people complained to local politician Lydia Dudziak who convinced the director of the zoo to separate these immoral donkeys who were, not to put too fine a point on it, acting like asses. Now let us consider this for a second. Zoos are not the nicest places for animals. This is probably the biggest reason why zoos have problems mating animals. The fact that Napoleon and Antosia manage to carry on their affair after ten years and six foals should be celebrated.

What’s more, if you are as old as I am, you will have noticed a change in nature documentaries. When I was a kid, predators never killed their prey in these things. The rabbit always got away from the fox. Now, watching a cheetah tear apart a beautiful gazelle is no big deal. Yet Napoleon humping Antosia from time to time is going to scar the kiddies? Really, if someone had told me at 5 years old that they were just playing, I would have believed them. I’m not a parent, and so I probably shouldn’t say this, but a lot of parents really need to get over themselves.

It all had a happy ending. After a week the zoo reversed it’s decision:

The zoo acknowledged making a mistake on Thursday and said the donkeys — Napoleon and Antosia — were back again in one pen. “It was never our intention for any animals to feel uncomfortable because of their natural behaviors,” the zoo said in a statement.

The interruption of the long-standing romance has turned into a national news story in Poland in the past days. Nearly 7,000 people signed a petition to have them reunited.

Two fan pages that appeared on Facebook devoted to their cause attracted nearly 10,000 likes — and photos of donkeys in the act.

Experts weighed in, saying that forcing the donkeys to live alone could affect their psychological wellbeing. Politicians were asked about it on the country’s leading news programs.

“Animals separated by sex into different cages? It’s complete idiocy,” said Stefan Niesiolowski, a legislator with the governing party, Civic Platform.

Even the spokesman for the conservative Law and Justice party, which Dudziak belongs to, would not come to her defense.

“It’s a level of absurdity — that has been crossed to such an extent that I don’t even want to read or know about this,” Adam Hofman said on Wednesday, on behalf of the party.

This is all great news, but it got me reading about donkeys last night. I found this great sentence on Wikipedia, “Although formal studies of their behavior and cognition are rather limited, donkeys appear to be quite intelligent, cautious, friendly, playful, and eager to learn.” That sounds very much like me. I’ve always known that donkeys get a bad rap because horses will basically do anything you tell them to and donkeys know better than to trust you. Yes, you can train horses to walk sideways. But I’m a lot smarter than a horse and if you try to teach me to walk sideways, I’m going to react very much like a donkey, although with more violence.

In my reading, I also learned about mules and hinnies. A mule is the offspring of a male donkey and female horse. A hinny is the offspring of a female donkey and a male horse. Because of the way that chromosomes interact (horses have 64, donkeys 62, and mules & hinnies have 63), it is a whole lot harder to create a hinny than a mule. But one thing I absolutely did not know is that hinnies and mules are not necessarily sterile. Well, all males are. But there are 60 documented cases of a female mule giving birth. Again, though, hinnies are much less fertile, with only one documented case of a female giving birth.

Regardless, I’m not sure how I feel about the breading of mules and hinnies. It strikes me a bit like something that Dr Josef Heiter would have done. I know: because of hybrid vigor, these mostly sterile animals are smarter and stronger than either horses or donkeys. Still, isn’t it kind of lonely, both in a personal and evolutionary way? Maybe I’m a hybridist, but I think it is best to let donkeys be with donkeys. (As for horses, they should stick together too — and as far away from me as possible, because horses are evil.) It is a very good thing that Napoleon and Antosia are back together!

[1] Antosia is the name of a town in Ukraine, but between the two world wars, it was in Poland.

2 thoughts on “Napoleon, Antosia, and All About Donkeys

  1. Donkeys. I’ve met some damn smart donkeys. In the Black Hills, there’s a state park called “Custer State Park.” Not because a big battle happened there. Because Custer led a geological expedition into the Black Hills to find gold, and the geologists in tow found gold. Hence we took the Black Hills, even though we’d sworn to leave that area to the Natives before Custer’s expedition found gold there. (That’s the background of “Deadwood,” in a nutshell.)

    The donkeys in Custer State Park are wild, descended from prospectors/miners who went broke and abandoned the donkeys. There’s a Nature Road or some such, and if one drives it, one doesn’t come across wild birds or buffalo. No: you run into donkeys.

    The donkeys game this stretch of road like pulling off a Mafia hit. They get in front of your car so you screech to a halt, then surround you and beat their hooves/heads against your car until you distract them with a shitload of chewable yummy things, all the while cursing the jerks who tricked you into thinking this was some kind of Exotic Nature Road.

    They are very clever beasts . . .

    • That’s a charming story. I used to live next door to a donkey. He was very noisy. But I always felt he needed a companion. Donkeys are apparently very social. But we already knew that because of Eddie Murphy in Shrek.

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