Creature feature: Lightning the Sicilian donkey

Lightning is one of the most well known and popular animals we have amongst our visitors. I have had people tell me they have been coming to the museum for years and that Lightning is their favorite animal! And there is good reason for Lightning to have made such a good impression, because he interacts with the visitors in many different ways. Lightning seems to thrive off of human interaction, whether it be spending time with the visitors or giving the keepers a hard time during his daily hoof cleaning. Sometimes he just stands still to allow small children to pet him, and sometimes he will run up and down the fence with you. But the activities that the visitors enjoy the most are playing tug-o-war and fetch with Lightning’s “Jolly Ball” toy.

Now some of you may be thinking, “I’ve never heard of a donkey playing tug-o-war or fetch,” but Lightning does! In fact, if you click here you can watch a video of him in action (and you’ll also get to see me get hit in the face with the ball, which my colleagues seem to greatly appreciate)!

Lightning was born on a farm in North Carolina in November 1998, and he came to the museum in April 1999 when he was only 5 months old. He has always lived with goats here, and right now he lives with two Nigerian goats named Rocky and Patches. Although Lightning can display good behavior much of the time, he at other times can be quite feisty. He will grab shirts, pants and even radio antennas if you’re not careful. With the keepers, he often tries to see how much he can get away with while we are brushing him, walking him, or cleaning his hooves. However, he tends to calm down once he finds out that he might get a donkey treat for good behavior!

Despite what people might think, donkeys are actually pretty smart. Lightning knows how to open the door to his yard, so we have to make sure the door is locked whenever he’s there, even if we are quickly going in and out for something! He has his own special way of letting the morning keeper know that he is ready for his walk by kicking on his stall door repeatedly until the keeper is finally ready to get him out (trust me, it is quite annoying to listen to first thing in the morning!). And if we accidentally leave a rake in the yard while cleaning, it may take several minutes to get it back until he is done chewing on it and swinging it around in his mouth. And the keepers who have been here a while describe him as having been even more rambunctious as a youngster than he is now!

The next time you’re here, go say hey to Lightning and see if he’s up for a game of fetch. Typically he will let people pet him, but be careful because sometimes he might try and grab your shirt and get a little skin with it, too!

Leave a Reply