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Zeke the temperamental donkey to return to the Drumheller Passion Play

Zeke the Jerusalem Donkey returns to the Drumheller Passion Play this month, but the temperamental cast member has sometimes refused to go onstage, and once even bucked off Jesus Christ.

Nubian burro puts his foot down on occassion

Zeke is a Jerusalem Donkey, an ancient breed that goes back to Biblical times. (Ron Nickel)

Zeke the Jerusalem Donkey is set to return to the Drumheller Passion Play for nine performances this month, but the temperamental Nubian burro has been known to put his foot down and refuse to go on stage.

"Like all donkeys, Zeke can be a bit of a diva and a little bit stubborn," says the play's animal wrangler Marlies Ohlhauser.

One of his quirks is that he doesn't like water — especially puddles. That once led to disaster for Jesus — who was bucked off just as he was about to make his triumphal entry into Jerusalem — after a rainy day on set.

"Zeke, as he got to the puddle, decided he would leap over the puddle, with Jesus flying right off of his back and onto the ground. That was quite comical," Ohlhauser told The Homestretch on Wednesday.

Another time, the actor playing Jesus had to run on stage by himself after Zeke put his foot down and simply refused to go onstage. And at other times, the diabetic diva donkey won't let anyone ride him if he eats too much sugar-rich grass, because his feet start to hurt.

Since its first performance in 1994, the Canadian Badlands Passion Play has drawn thousands of tourists to Drumheller. (Ron Nickel)

Like other Jerusalem donkeys, Zeke — or Ezekiel to use the animal actor's full name — bears a fur cross over his shoulders.

Legend has it that the original donkey that carried Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday wanted desperately to carry the cross for Jesus, and that desire was imprinted across his back and carried for all future generations.

'Unpredictable'

Zeke is one of only three donkeys to take on the job of carrying Jesus over the play's 23-year history.

When he's not acting, Zeke lives with Ohlhauser on her 110-acre farm with his best buddy Zar, an Arabian horse who also stars in the play.

"He does prefer horses over other donkeys — he doesn't like to share the spotlight with another donkey," she said.

The 2016 play features a new script adapted from the Gospel of Luke. And Zeke has a bigger role, which presents fresh challenges for Ohlhauser and the other actors.

"Everyone loves Zeke, of course. His personality is so charming, and everyone wants to be around him. But it's unpredictable and that's OK ... We know he's going to do a good job and we just go with it," Ohlhauser said.

There will be nine performances of the Canadian Badlands Passion Play from July 8-24.

With files from The Homestretch

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