It’s a zebra, it's a donkey, it's a … zonkey?
When Marya Baygulova first laid eyes on a donkey-zebra hybrid in Shadow Hills 13 years ago, she knew she had to have it.
Lucky for her, the donkey dealer had no idea what he had on his hands, and he gave her the hybrid animal, called a "zonkey" or "zedonk," for free.
"He didn't know her value," Baygulova said of the rare equine that could have cost thousands of dollars.
Baygulova had promised her son, Andreas, a donkey just like one she had owned as a child. In turn, her son named the zonkey Mona Lisa, after his mother's childhood pet, the Glendale News-Press reported.
The exotic hybrid lives in a corral in the Rancho-Riverside neighborhood in Glendale, long known for its love affair with all things equestrian. Mona Lisa is the size of a zebra but has the low-hanging stomach and shape of a donkey. Her body is gray, but her ears and mane are black and white, and her legs are streaked with black stripes.
Zebras and donkeys almost never mate, and even when they do, the odds of procreation are slim, experts say. Their offspring often are sterile.
"It's really rare," said Janet Roser, a UC Davis professor who specializes in equine reproduction. "There may be a few in zoos."
Horses and zebras have been known to mix, as well. Their offspring are called "zorses."
Mona Lisa was probably born in the Sierra Nevada and her mother was probably a zebra, Baygulova said.
As Baygulova stroked Mona Lisa's coat, it was clear the zonkey likes attention, braying and barking when Baygulova moved over to pet her horse.
Mona Lisa runs alongside the horse, who is about twice Mona Lisa's size and used to be an exercise racing horse. That's unusual for donkeys, which typically move at a slower pace.
Because of the shape of her back, Mona Lisa can't wear a saddle, but Baygulova said she can still be ridden.
"A lot of people say they're untrainable. Maybe I'm half-zebra," said Baygulova, who joked that she studies the black rings around Mona Lisa's eyes to perfect her own eyeliner technique.
In her email newsletters about her work, artist and neighbor Susan Rios often writes about Baygulova's animals. Mona Lisa, she added, has fans across the country.
"She needs her own Facebook page," she said.
-- Brittany Levine, Times Community News
Photo: Mara Baygulova brushes Mona Lisa, a zonkey, in a corral in Glendale. Credit: Tim Berger / Times Community News