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The donkey is one of the earliest animals domesticated by humanity. Its ancestor is the African wild ass, which was tamed by at least 4000 BC in northern Africa for use as a beast of burden. In this role, it first spread across Eurasia and later accompanied European explorers to the Americas.

In western North America, escaped Spanish donkeys known as burros have escaped domestication and formed feral herds.

The mating of a male donkey and a female horse produces the even more useful mule, with the surefootedness of the donkey and the more placid temperament of the horse.