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All Creatures,

Episode 61: Almost Gone, the African Wild Ass

December 04, 2018

In honor of Chris’s book, we are launching our second year with a personal favorite to both of us, the Somali Wild Ass. The African Wild Asses are the wild counterparts to the world’s domestic donkeys. The Somali Wild Ass is the last remaining subspecies and is critically endangered with only 300 animals left worldwide.

The Handbook of Horses and Donkeys (Amazon-US)

The Handbook of Horses and Donkeys (5M)

African Wild Ass Description

The African Wild Asses (Equus africanus) consist of three subspecies:

  • Somali Wild Ass ( africanus somaliensis)- critically endangered with 300 animals
  • Nubian Wild Ass ( a. africanus)– extinct in last 20+ years
  • Atlas Wild Ass- ( africanus atlanticus)- went extinct in 300 AD

The African Wild Asses are desert dwelling equids. They once roamed all of North Africa and today only the Somali Wild Ass exist in the wild in pockets of Ethiopia and Djibouti. A common equid ancestor migrated to Africa over 800,000 years ago, which eventually became the African Wild Asses and the many species of Zebra found in Africa today. The Asiatic Wild Asses descended from a different ancestor, similar to horses.

Domestic donkeys descended from the Africa Wild Ass over 6000 years ago in the Nile River Valley in modern day Egypt. Many domestic donkeys descended from Nubian Wild Asses, which were distinctive with a stripe along their shoulders.  However, the Somali Wild Ass influence can be seen in domestic donkeys with their distinctive leg striping patterns.

African Wild Ass Facts

The physiology of the African Wild Ass is exactly like that of the Domestic Donkey. These are animals that survive in very harsh terrains and thus earn their appreciation as dependable work animals for many centuries. While not quite as large as many horse breeds, the African Wild Ass can stand almost 5 feet (1.5 m) at the shoulder and weigh up to 600 lb (275 kg).

Other facts include:

  • Live around 20 years in the wild, with many donkeys living into their 30s
  • Can run over long distances up to 30 mph (65 kph)
  • Large ears to hear and catch sounds better, especially in dessert regions where sound can travel far
  • Males defend food and water resources, also in anticipation of getting a mate
  • Prefer a diet of grass but will eat other vegetation, very hard animals

Angie and Chris conducted a behavior study on the Somali Wild Ass in comparison to the Grévy’s Zebra and Domestic Horse. The results are below. These are all animals confined to large pastures. It is interesting that even confined exotic equids displayed very similar behaviors to that of Domestic Horses.

Somali Wild Ass Conservation

These animals are critically endangered. With a wild population of a high estimate of 200 and around 100 in captivity, there are maybe 300 Somali Wild Ass, or African Wild Ass, left in the world. Zoos and Conservation Centers from around the world are working hard to preserve these animals.

Conservation Tips

Plant a Tree this week. Just go out, find a seed and stick it in the ground, or better yet, buy a sapling and plant it in your yard. We need more trees planted around the world if we are to help preserve our environment.

Tips on planting trees

Organizations to Support

White Oak Conservation

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