Loup Loup skiers have been reporting a curious roadside attraction on the way up to the mountain lately. Livestock can easily go unnoticed along the highway, after all, this is Okanogan County where free range dominates the roads. But a peculiar menagerie of exotic creatures near Beaver Creek Road have gotten the slope side drivers curious about the apparent zonkey and yak.
First off, let’s take a look at these animals. That’s not a typo up above — a zonkey is cross between a donkey and a zebra. African zebras are in the horse family but are said to be unable to be domesticated. Donkeys and horses on the other hand are said to have been saved from extinction by humans, but the wild prey instincts of the zebra make it a difficult animal to tame. Therefore, some breeders have experimented with crossing it with its more amicable cousin the donkey, and henceforth the zonkey. Because of its wild nature, caring and taming a zonkey takes a special kind of trainer with a lot of experience.
The yak on the other hand comes from the highlands of Asian and has been domesticated into many different breeds. It’s less unusual to find them on farms. Still, its home along Highway 20 gives passengers a double-take as the miniature version that stands out amongst its hooved friends.
To find out more about these animals, I had a quick conversation with Melissa Holt, the owner and caregiver of these exotic wonders. Melissa is an animal lover to the bone. She keeps a herd of milking goats and flock of chickens for her commercial egg business. She’s been in the horse business for many years, raising Arabians for competition with her daughter and now since her move to Twisp, has gotten into Western riding and rodeo.
She came across the zonkey on a social media page for horse breeders and where the owner was looking for a new home for the creature. Knowing the delicate care and handling an animal of this nature requires, she felt she was the right person for the job. The zonkey therefore was trailered up from its warm home in Arizona to her current abode here in Twisp. She spends time socializing with the other animals while Melissa is gently breaking her into her new surroundings.
Melissa never thought the animals would be such an attraction and be the buzz around town. “People stop by along the highway, asking about them all the time,” she remarked. The interest in the zonkey and yak, as well as the rest of the animals begs the question if a petting zoo is in the works. As of now, she’s considering that as a potential future undertaking, but her current ownership of the Branding Iron Saloon keeps her busy enough right now.