Mara Baygulova brushes her "zonkey," Mona Lisa, at a corral… (Tim Berger )
When Mara Baygulova first laid eyes on the "zonkey" 13 years ago in Shadow Hills, she knew she had to have the rare equine — a zebra-donkey hybrid.
Lucky for her, the owner did not know what he had, Baygulova said, and she ended up getting for free what could have cost thousands of dollars.
"He didn't know her value," she said.
Baygulova grew up with a donkey named Mona Lisa and had promised her son, Andreas, one just like hers. On his 5th birthday, she presented him with the zonkey instead. He named the animal after his mother's childhood pet.
The exotic hybrid lives in a corral in the Rancho-Riverside neighborhood of 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.
She also brays like a donkey but barks like a zebra.
"I have not given Mona Lisa voice lessons yet, but she sure can use it," said Baygulova, an opera singer and voice coach.
Zebras and donkeys almost never mate, and even if 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 Nevadas and her mother was probably a zebra, Baygulova said.
She clearly has a penchant for attention, braying and barking when Baygulova moved over to pet her horse.
"She's like the bratty little sister," Baygulova said, adding that despite the jealousy, the two animals love each other.
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," Baygulova joked. "Maybe I'm half-zebra."