Zelda the zonkey, home at last

Image source, Facebook
Image caption, Zelda the zonkey and her rescuer, Ashleigh Benton, bond

Can zonkeys change their stripes?

Born without the telltale black-and-white pattern, a half-zebra, half-donkey hybrid named Zelda has certainly changed her luck.

Once destined for slaughter in New Jersey, Zelda was rescued by Ashleigh Benton and moved to Nova Scotia.

"She's settling in really well and she's becoming more and more friendly, and more and more confident," Ms Benton told the BBC.

An animal lover, Ms Benton had a habit of perusing Facebook pages that advertise horses in need of rescue. That's where she first locked eyes with six-year-old Zelda last November. Zelda was being advertised in a last-ditch effort to save her from the slaughterhouse.

Image source, Facebook
Image caption, Zelda's picture was posted on a site that tries to find horses a home before they are sent to slaughter

The page is usually full of unwanted horses and donkeys, but the exotic animal, typically bred as a novelty, was a rare find.

"I'd never seen a zonkey on there," she said.

Ms Benton imagined people would be chomping at the bit to own the rare breed, but when she phoned, she found out that the zonkey called "animal no 20" would be taken away to the slaughterhouse that night. She suspects her lack of zebra stripes may have made her less desirable.

On a whim, Ms Benton broke out her emergency credit-card and saved the zonkey from certain death.

A GoFundMe page helped cover Zelda's $3500 Canadian ($2660 US, £2123) price tag and additional transport costs. Any money raised over and above that will go towards her regular care at a horse shelter in Nova Scotia.

Zelda moved to Integrity's Haven Rescue Centre after spending some time in the state of Maine, where she needed veterinary care. At first shy and afraid of humans, it took a lot of gentle training to get Zelda used to wearing a blanket to protect her from the cold Canadian winter.

Image source, Facebook
Image caption, Zelda the zonkey was transported from a feedlot in New Jersey to an animal rescue in Nova Scotia

But her biggest challenge was learning to stand up to bullies, especially a little miniature horse a third her size.

Now she and the horse are good friends, and Zelda's one of the pack, Ms Benton says. That means the horse is likely to make Integrity's Haven her home for good.

"If Zelda's happy, which she certainly seems to be now, then she's going to stay put," she said.

"I can go out and see her every other day if I want."

The whole experience has also inspired Ms Benton, who studies anthrozoology long-distance at University of Exeter, to start her own rescue one day.

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