The “zonkey,” the zebra-esque black-and-white painted burros seen in several locations along Tijuana’s Avenida Revolución, is a dying breed. Lack of tourism along the route is blamed for the dwindling resources allocated to the creatures. Technology has also lopped off a large portion of revenue.
The animals have been a mainstay of Avenida Revolución since the 1940s, when black-and-white photography was de rigueur and any kid who didn’t have a picture of himself atop a pony (or, in this case, a burro) was missing out on a family tradition.
Once able to garner $50 or more a day for their handlers, the placid, corn-husk-devouring creatures are barely able to make a buck in 2013. After all, a zonkey cannot live on corncobs alone, and the occasional slab of alfalfa and pail of grain is greatly appreciated. Some zonkey owners have taken to requesting one-dollar contributions for burro chow, and restaurants have contributed vegetable trimmings for the animals to munch on during the day.
Another aspect of the problem is the advent of digital photography. Where, once, old cameras were used to create a single black-and-white photograph, processed on the spot for five bucks or so, now tourists expect to shoot dozens of photos in color, using their own equipment — and for free.
Still, attempts are being made to ensure that these living objets d’art do not go the way of the dodo bird. Gabriel Rivera Delgado, coordinator of the Tijuana’s historical archive, feels that the zonkeys can be saved through an educational campaign that encourages the public to appreciate zonkeys’ historical importance to Tijuana’s image.
Of course, the burro handlers need to make dinero for the feed and care of the animals, which are kept in subterranean stables off Calle Sexta during the night along with their colorful carts, saddles, and sombreros.
Another cost of overhead for the zonkistas is striping: the zonkeys (there are about six), whose coats are naturally white or a mottled brown-gray, are striped with liquid shoe-dye. They need repainting on a regular basis.
Source: La Segunda