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Baby zedonk puts spotlight on wildlife preserve
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A baby zedonk, half zebra and half donkey, is drawing international attention and more visitors to the Chestatee Wildlife Preserve in Lumpkin County.
Chestatee Wildlife Preserve
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily
Where: 469 Old Dahlonega Highway, Dahlonega
How much: $10 adults, $5 children 11 and younger; cash and check only
More info: 678-537-6765

She may have come from humble beginnings, but a baby zedonk has quickly become the star at Chestatee Wildlife Preserve in Dahlonega.

The zedonk, half zebra and half donkey, was born at the preserve nearly two weeks ago and has since captured the attention of local residents and national media outlets alike.

“Our phones are ringing constantly,” said C.W. Wathen, the preserve’s founder and general manager. “We never really thought about how rare it is, but we’re finding that out more and more every day.”

Interest in the zedonk hasn’t been limited to the United States, either.

“We’ve gotten calls from Russia and have even had visitors from France,” Wathen said. “One group of visitors came by this weekend and said they came to see it because they got a call from their friends in Egypt that told them about her.”

Although the animals on the preserve have been running together in the same fields for more than 30 years, Wathen said this is the first time there has been any crossbreeding.

With her donkey mother’s bone structure and zebra father’s stripes, the baby zedonk is quite a spectacle.

“Everyone that comes out can’t believe what they are seeing,” Wathen said.

And interest in the zedonk is keeping the preserve’s all-volunteer staff jumping.

“Business has really picked up. Some people have already been back a couple of times, and they’re bringing more people with them each time,” Wathen said. “Things have been busy, but it’s for the animals, so everyone is all for putting in a few extra hours if they have to.”

The zedonk now has a name, too, at least temporarily. After receiving numerous requests to name her Pippi Longstocking — a character in a children’s book who is famous for her striped hosiery — the preserve’s staff have conceded.

“We’re calling her Pippi, but we’re still leaving that open for the schools. We’d like to do a naming contest for the kids,” Wathen said.

“So her name may stay Pippi, or it could change.”

The preserve is a nonprofit organization dedicated to rescuing animals. In addition to Pippi, the preserve has become the home for white tigers, black leopards, a baby grizzly bear and numerous macaws — among other animals.

“I sort of fell into it. I used to raise a lot of horses years ago in Kentucky,” Wathen said. “One day, someone asked me if I wanted to trade a few miniature horses for a couple of zebras, and I did. And it just sort of grew from there. I love all animals, but I really fell in love with the exotics.”

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