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Google drives into 'dead' donkey Street View controversy

The Web is up in arms and pointing fingers about a Street View shot of a prostrate beast of burden somewhere in Botswana. Google says it takes the safety of donkeys "very seriously."

This is the Google Street View shot.
Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

I love donkeys.

I have spent vast amounts of time observing them at such far-flung places as Six Flags in Vallejo, Calif., and New Jersey's fine Bergen County Zoo (evidence below).

Donkeys are the only animals that really understand the world. They stand there, stare at you and, in an attempt to commune with your lot, their expression says: "Life's really not all that, is it?"

So when I see a dead one -- or even one that's just prostrate -- tears well in my eyes as if another family member has bitten the dust.

It was hard for me, therefore, to remain controlled when my colleague Ben Dreyfuss sent me a Google Street View image of a donkey lying apparently motionless in the road in Kweneng, Botswana.

The image was shared (together with disgusted thoughts) multiple times on the Web. The Atlantic was also very moved, so much so that it contacted Google.

A Google spokesperson insisted: "Our Street View teams take the safety of people and donkeys very seriously."

I am braying at the veracity of this statement. Google's drivers are well known for the click-and-run.

One, for example, merely photographed a drunken man called Bill, who had fallen by the wayside in Australia, his feet dangerously poking out into the road.

Do we have any evidence here that the driver even stopped to ask the donkey if he was all right? Do we have any proof that the donkey wasn't, as the Atlantic muses, run over by the driver?

Australia's News Limited says it was told by Google that the donkey was already lying down and then subsequently got up and wandered off.

However, this would mean -- based on News Limited's analysis of the Street View images -- that the donkey was walking backwards.

According to Melbourne University's Adjunct Professor of Zoology, Roger Short, walking backwards is something that donkeys don't do. Yes, only strange people on running machines in the gym walk backwards.

The Register, on the other hand, is convinced that Google is telling the truth and that the donkey was merely enjoying something we all occasionally need -- a dust bath.

And this is the publication that insisted a Google Street View driver killed Bambi.

For myself, I cannot believe that Google is in the clear, unless it produces that very same donkey and proves to all of us donkey lovers that this fine beast is still alive.

A dust bath? Or a bloodbath? Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

This is one of the great donkeys at Bergen County Zoo. I call her Shell, because she's soft inside. Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Updated 9:17 a.m. PT: Google has been so distraught at the outpouring of donkey-love and donkey-concern that it has posted a detailed account on its blog of how the donkey was utterly unharmed and walked away as the Street View car drove by. One can only hope.