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Zedonk still popular at wildlife preserve as its 1st birthday approaches

Cake will be served this weekend to celebrate

POSTED: July 19, 2011 1:30 a.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Melanie Farmer, Brayden Farmer, 7, and Hayley Tavenier, 3, feed Pippi the zedonk Friday morning at the Chestatee Wildlife Preserve in Lumpkin County.

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Pippi Z. Donk is a heartbreaker and showstopper all rolled up into one.

Her curiously striped legs will pull you in from afar, but her sweet nature as she nuzzles your hand will steal your heart.

For the last year, Pippi has been the shining star at the Chestatee Wildlife Preserve in Dahlonega. The unique animal, named after a fictional character who was known to be full of spunk and wear striped stockings, was born to a donkey mother. Her father is a zebra.

Her birth was anything but intentional. In the 40 years that the animals have been allowed to mingle, staff say this is the first time there has been a mixed-breed birth like this one.

"When she was first born, Jay Leno and even Regis and Kelly were talking about her. And we had visitors come see her from all over," said C.W. Wathen, the preserve’s founder and general manager.

"It still is crazy. We’re still getting people from all over the world. (Last week) we got a call from a reporter in France. They said they heard it was getting close to her birthday, and they wanted to come back out."

Pippi’s official birthday is Thursday, but the preserve will be celebrating through Sunday.

"We’re gonna have birthday cake Saturday and Sunday for the people coming to see her. And of course, we got her some special horse treats," Wathen said.

More than likely, if you stop by to visit Pippi during the day, she’s roaming around a pasture with her momma and best buddy — a miniature horse.

"We put her with the little Texas longhorn; she gets along with the alpacas and the other donkeys. We haven’t found anything she doesn’t mix with," Wathen said.

If the gang isn’t all present and accounted for, Pippi’s not a happy girl. She has no problem causing a slight ruckus by kicking the gate until the preserve’s volunteers oblige her and bring in all of her friends.

"She herds like a zebra. If she’s in a field, with say alpacas and longhorns, wherever she goes she wants them to go," Wathen said.

"She’ll just keep nipping at them until they get where she wants them. Then she’ll start grazing.

"She’s pretty bossy — and sassy."

Although she inherited her stripes and inquisitive nature from her father, Pippi’s gentle nature and overall bone structure is all donkey, Wathen said.

Some of Pippi’s other characteristics are more akin to her parents’ horse ancestors.

"She still has that little horse head. We thought it might fill in some, but it hasn’t," Wathen said.

"And she can start and stop on a dime, that’s unusual for a donkey and a zebra."

In the year since her birth, the preserve’s staff have learned a great deal about their unusual resident.

"She loves kids. When she sees kids come up to visit her, she’ll run up to the fence," Wathen said.

"My 3-year-old (Bella Wathen) feeds her everyday. Pippi knows when she sees Bella, she’s gonna get fed. We feed her a lot of little horse treats and she loves Oreo cookies. Of course she shouldn’t have the cookies, but Bella eats them, so she ends up eating them too."

Although her birth caused an international sensation, her star power wasn’t a passing fad. Wathen says they’re still getting visitors from places like France, Israel, Japan and London.

Local visitors still make it a priority to see Pippi, too.

"She’s been telling everyone that she’s going to the ‘zoon’ to see a zedonk," said Melanie Farmer of Cumming, about her 3-year-old niece Hayley Tavenier.

"We looked on the Internet at pictures, and she cried to come see her."

Hayley’s squeals of excitement let everyone within earshot know that the in-person visit lived up to her expectations.

"I liked petting her," said Hayley, with merriment shining in her eyes.

In addition to Haley, Farmer also brought her son, 7-year-old Bradyn Farmer, and 8-year-old niece Lindsey Tavenir to visit the animals on the preserve. Farmer’s mother, Shelly Bertrand, also came along to get a firsthand look at Pippi.

"We’ve been coming up here for about six years now; we love seeing all of the animals," Farmer said.

"But this was our first time seeing Pippi. I love her stripes on her legs and the one down her back."

Although visitors of all ages are welcome at the preserve, Wathen says it’s the pint-sized ones that make all of the hard work of keeping the facility going worthwhile.

"This is what makes it all worth it, when the kids get to come and see the animals," Wathen said.

"Petting Pippi and seeing her is an experience they’ll remember for the rest of their lives."

Although Pippi isn’t the only zedonk in the world, her particular hybrid type is very rare.

"Some people say they’ve heard of another zedonk being born, but it’s the other way — it has a zebra mama and a donkey for its daddy," Wathen said.

"As far as we know, Pippi is the only one in the world that has a donkey for a mama."

For the time being, she’s one-of-a-kind at the Dahlonega preserve, but that could change at any time since all of the animals are still allowed to mingle freely.

Time will only tell if there’s another baby zedonk on the way.

"If so, we don’t know who the father is because she has run with a male donkey, a male zebra and we also have a stud horse running with them.

"So if she is pregnant, nobody’s talking yet."



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