The African Wild Ass has a limited range in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Somalia. This is the ancestor of the domestic donkey. Taxonomic treatments vary, but Rubenstein (2011) treats the African Wild Ass and the domestic donkey as two distinct species, Equus africanus and E. asinus, respectively.
The African Wild Ass inhabits hilly and stony deserts, as well as semi-desert grasslands and euphorbia and aloe shrublands receiving 100 to 200 mm annual rainfall. Sandy habitats are avoided. African Wild Asses have been found up to 1500 m elevation in Ethiopia.
African Wild Asses mainly graze on various grasses. They can lose up to 30% of their body weight in water, then replenish this loss in just a few minutes when water is available. Nevertheless, they must drink every few days and are rarely found more than 30 km from a water source. They live in small groups, typically consisting of fewer than five animals, with mostly short-term associations (except between a mother and her young). The life span is thought to be around 25 to 30 years.
This species is critically endangered and currently occupies only a small portion of its historical range, which once included large stretches of northern Africa. It is threatened by hunting for food and body parts used in traditional healing, competition with livestock for food and water, and possibly interbreeding with domestic donkeys.
(Rubenstein 2011 and references therein)
- Rubenstein, D.I. 2011. African Wild Ass (Equus africanus). Pp. 140-141 in: Wilson, D.E. and Mittermeier, R.A., eds. Handbook of the Mammals of the World. Volume 2. Hoofed Mammals. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
Two subspecies are recognized. The Nubian Wild Ass, E. a. africanus, lived in the Nubian desert of north-eastern Sudan, from east of the Nile River to the shores of the Red Sea, and south to the Atbara River and into northern Eritrea. During aerial flights in the 1970s, wild asses were seen in the Barka Valley of Eritrea and in the border area between Eritrea and the Sudan. The Somali Wild Ass, E. a. somalicus, was found in the Denkelia region of Eritrea, the Danakil Desert and the Awash River Valley in the Afar region of north-eastern Ethiopia, western Djibouti, and into the Ogaden region of eastern Ethiopia. In Somalia, they ranged from Meit and Erigavo in the north to the Nugaal Valley, and as far south as the Shebele River (Moehlman 2002; Moehlman et al. in press).
The current range of the African Wild Ass (in Ethiopia and Eritrea) is approximately 15,000 km². DNA extracted from faecal samples collected from animals in Eritrea and Ethiopia resulted in the identification of five mitochondrial DNA haplotypes: one haplotype (group of polymorphisms) specific to the Eritrean population (haplotype D); one haplotype specific to the Ethiopian population (E); and three shared haplotypes (A, B, and C). These results suggest that there is and/or has been gene flow between the subpopulations (Afrera, Serdo) in Ethiopia and the population in Eritrea (Oakenfull et al. 2002).
Habitat and Ecology
In Eritrea and Ethiopia, limited observations indicate that African Wild Asses are primarily grazers, but that they will also utilize browse. Typical of arid habitat equids, the only stable groups are composed of a female and her offspring. Females do associate with other females or with males, but even temporary groups are small. Low density and low sociability may be due to low forage quality and availability. In the Mille-Serdo Wild Ass Reserve the preferred forage is Aristida sp, Chrysopogon plumulosus, Dactyloctenium schindicum, Digiteria sp, Lasiurus scindicus, and Sporobolus iocladus (Kebede 1999; Moehlman 2002; Moehlman et al. in press). In Eritrea, Pannicum turgidium is an important forage species (Teclai 2006).
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 1996Critically Endangered(Baillie and Groombridge 1996)
- 1994Endangered(Groombridge 1994)
- 1990Endangered(IUCN 1990)
- 1988Endangered(IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
- 1986Endangered(IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1986)
In Eritrea, there are limited long-term data. The first successful survey was made in 1996 and there has been a research and conservation programme with the Ministry of Agriculture for the past ten years. The main study site in the Northern Red Sea Zone has had a population of roughly 47 individuals per 100 km² (Moehlman et al. 1998; Moehlman 2002). This is the highest population density found anywhere in the present range of the species and is similar to population densities recorded in Ethiopia in the early 1970s. This is a limited study area (100 km²), but recent research indicates that African Wild Ass currently inhabit approximately 11,000 km² in the Denkeli desert (Teclai 2006). Surveys are needed to determine the distribution and density of African Wild Ass in this larger area. A rough estimate of African Wild Ass in Eritrea would yield a total of possibly 400 individuals.
In Somalia, in 1997, local pastoralists said that there were less than 10 African Wild Ass left in the Nugaal Valley; an earlier ground survey in 1989 in the Nugaal Valley yielded population estimates of roughly 135-205 animals or approximately 2.7-4.1/km² (Moehlman 1998). Some animals may remain near Meit and Erigavo, but this area has not been surveyed since the 1970s (Moehlman et al. in press). It is not known if African Wild Ass currently persist in Somalia.
In summary, the total number of observed African Wild Ass in Eritrea and Ethiopia is 70 individuals; there may be as many as 600 individuals in these two countries, but this figure is a very rough extrapolation from more intensely studied areas. The number of mature individuals is approximately one-third of the population (Feh et al. 2001), hence the minimum number of mature individuals is 23 and the maximum might be 200. In Ethiopia, in the last 35 years there has been a greater that 95% population decline and in the last 12 years the African Wild Ass has been extirpated from roughly 50% of its range (Kebede et al. 2007). In Eritrea, the population is stable and slowly increasing. However, it is difficult to predict population trends into the future. The desert habitat of the African Wild Ass in both Eritrea and Ethiopia suffers from recurrent and extreme droughts (Kebede 1999; Teclai 2006).
Recommended research and conservation actions, include:
1. Ecosystems based and population dynamics research on the African Wild Ass in Eritrea and Ethiopia.
2. Research on interactions among pastoralists, livestock, wildlife and the environment
3. Actively involve local pastoralists in the preparation and management of long-term action plans
4. Post-graduate training of personnel in Eritrea and Ethiopia.
5. Surveys in Eritrea, Djibouti, Sudan and Egypt to determine current distribution of African wild ass
6. Genetic research on the African Wild Ass and local domestic donkey populations to clarify the genetic status of the two subspecies.
African wild ass
The African wild ass (Equus africanus) is a wild member of the horse family, Equidae. This species is believed to be the ancestor of the domestic donkey which is usually placed within the same species. They live in the deserts and other arid areas of the Horn of Africa, in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia; it formerly had a wider range north and west into Sudan, Egypt and Libya. About 570 individuals exist in the wild.
Different authors consider the African wild ass and the domesticated donkey one or two species; either view is technically legitimate, though the former is phylogenetically more accurate.
The species name for the African wild ass is sometimes given as asinus, from the domestic donkey, whose specific name is older and usually would have priority. But this usage is erroneous since the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature has conserved the name Equus africanus in Opinion 2027. This was done to prevent the confusing situation of the phylogenetic ancestor being taxonomically included in its descendant.
Thus, if one species is recognized, the correct scientific name of the donkey is E. africanus asinus.
The first published name for the African wild ass, Asinus africanus Fitzinger, 1858, is a nomen nudum. The name Equus taeniopus von Heuglin, 1861 is rejected as indeterminable, as it is based on an animal that cannot be identified and may have been a hybrid between a domestic donkey and a Somali wild ass; the type has not been preserved. The first available name thus becomes Asinus africanus von Heuglin & Fitzinger, 1866. A lectotype is designated: a skull of an adult female collected by von Heuglin near Atbarah River, Sudan, and present in the State Museum of Natural History Stuttgart, MNS 32026. The two subspecies recognized are the Nubian wild ass Equus africanus africanus (von Heuglin & Fitzinger, 1866), and the Somali wild ass Equus africanus somaliensis (Noack, 1884).
The African wild ass is 2 metres (6.6 ft) long and 1.25 to 1.45 metres (12.1 to 14.1 h) (51 to 59 in) tall at the shoulders, with a tail 30–50 centimetres (12–20 in) long. It weighs between 230–275 kilograms (510–610 lb). The short, smooth coat is a light grey to fawn colour, fading quickly to white on the undersides and legs. There is a slender, dark dorsal stripe in all subspecies, while in the Nubian wild ass E. a. africanus, as well as the domestic donkey, there is a stripe across the shoulder. The legs of the Somali wild ass E. a. somaliensis are horizontally striped with black, resembling those of a zebra. On the nape of the neck, there is a stiff, upright mane, the hairs of which are tipped with black. The ears are large with black margins. The tail terminates with a black brush. The hooves are slender and approximately the diameter of the legs.
African wild asses are well suited to life in a desert or semidesert environment. They have tough digestive systems, which can break down desert vegetation and extract moisture from food efficiently. They can also go without water for a fairly long time. Their large ears give them an excellent sense of hearing and help in cooling. Because of the sparse vegetation in their environment wild asses live somewhat separated from each other (except for mothers and young), unlike the tightly grouped herds of wild horses. They have very loud voices, which can be heard for over 3 km (1.9 mi), which helps them to keep in contact with other asses over the wide spaces of the desert.
The African wild ass is primarily active in the cooler hours between late afternoon and early morning, seeking shade and shelter amongst the rocky hills during the day. The Somali wild ass is also very agile and nimble-footed, capable of moving quickly across boulder fields and in the mountains. On the flat, it has been recorded reaching speeds of 70 km/h (43 mph). In keeping with these feats, its soles are particularly hard and its hooves grow very quickly.
Mature males defend large territories around 23 square kilometers in size, marking them with dung heaps - an essential marker in the flat, monotonous terrain. Due to the size of these ranges, the dominant male cannot exclude other males. Rather, intruders are tolerated - recognized and treated as subordinates, and kept as far away as possible from any of the resident females. In the presence of estrous females, the males bray loudly. These animals live in loose herds of up to fifty individuals.
Wild asses can run swiftly, almost as fast as a horse. However, unlike most hoofed mammals, their tendency is to not flee right away from a potentially dangerous situation, but to investigate first before deciding what to do. When they need to, they can defend themselves with kicks from both their front and hind legs. Equids were used in ancient Sumer to pull wagons circa 2600 BC, and then chariots on the Standard of Ur, circa 2000 BC. These have been suggested to represent onagers, but are now thought to have been domestic asses. (Clutton-Brock)
The African wild asses' diet consists of grasses, bark, and leaves. Despite being primarily adapted for living in an arid climate, they are dependent on water, and when not receiving the needed moisture from vegetation, they must drink at least once every three days. However, they can survive on a surprisingly small amount of liquid, and have been reported to drink salty or brackish water.
Though the species itself is under no threat of extinction, due to abundant domestic stock (donkey and burros), the two extant wild subspecies are both listed as critically endangered. African wild asses have been captured for domestication for centuries, and this, along with interbreeding between wild and domestic animals, has caused a distinct decline in population numbers. There are now only a few hundred individuals left in the wild. These animals are also hunted for food and for traditional medicine in both Ethiopia and Somalia, where recent civil unrest has led to an increased number of weapons in circulation. Competition with domestic livestock for grazing, and restricted access to water supplies caused by agricultural developments, pose further threats to the survival of this species. The African wild ass is legally protected in the countries where it is currently found, although these measures often prove difficult to enforce. A protected population of the Somali wild ass exists in the Yotvata Hai-Bar Nature Reserve in Israel, to the north of Eilat. This reserve was established in 1968 with the view to bolster populations of endangered desert species. Populations of horses and asses are fairly resilient, and if the species is properly protected it may well recover from its current low.
There are about 150 individual Somali wild asses living in zoos around the globle of which 36 were born at Zoo Basel, where this species's breeding program started with Basel's first Somali wild asses in 1970 and the first birth in 1972.
Zoo Basel manages the European studbook for the Somali wild ass and coordinates the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP). All European and American wild donkeys are either descendants of the original group at Zoo Basel or of 12 others that came from the Yotvata Hai-Bar Nature Reserve in Israel in 1972.
This article incorporates CC-BY-3.0 text from the reference.
- Moehlman, P.D., Yohannes, H., Teclai, R. & Kebede, F. (2008). Equus africanus. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 10 April 2009. Database entry includes a brief justification of why this species is of critically endangered.
- (German) Heuglin Th. v & Fitzinger L. J. (1866). "Systematische Übersicht der Säugethiere Nordost-Afrika’s mit Einschluß der arabischen Küste, des rothen Meeres, der Somáli- und der Nilquellen-Länder, südwärts bis zum vierten Grade nördlicher Breite. Von Dr Theodor v. Heuglin. Nach brieflichen Mittheilungen und den Original-Exemplaren des Herrn Verfassers ergänzt und mit Zusätzen versehen von dem w. M. Dr Leopold Joseph Fitzinger". Sitzungsberichte der Kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Abt. 1. Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftliche Klasse 54: 537-611.
- Grubb, P. (2005). "Order Perissodactyla". In Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 629. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494. http://www.bucknell.edu/msw3/browse.asp?id=14100004.
- Staff (10 August 2010). "African wild ass is the mother of donkeys, DNA shows". National Geographic Blogspot. National Geographic. http://blogs.nationalgeographic.com/blogs/news/chiefeditor/2010/08/african-wild-ass-is-ancestor-of-modern-donkeys.html. Retrieved 8 November 2010.
- Groves C. P. & Smeenk C. (2007). "The nomenclature of the African wild ass". Zoologische Mededelingen 81(1). HTM, PDF
- (German) Heuglin Th. v (1861). "Th. v. Heuglin’s Forschungen über die Fauna des Rothen Meeres und der Somáli-Kuste. Ein systematisches Verzeichniss der Säugethiere und Vögel, welche in diesen Regionen bisher beobachtet worden sind, mit Rücksicht auf ihre geographische Verbreitung in horizontaler und vertikaler Ausdehnung". Mittheilungen aus Justus Perthes’ Geographischer Anstalt über Wichtige Neue Erforschungen auf dem Gesammtgebiete der Geographie von Dr A. Petermann (“Petermann’s Geographische Mittheilungen”): 11-32.
- (German) Noack Th. (1884). "Neues aus der Tierhandlung von Karl Hagenbeck, sowie aus dem Zoologischen Garten in Hamburg". Der Zoologische Garten 25: 100-115.
- Staff. "Somali Wild Ass". About the Animals. St. Louis Zoo. http://www.stlzoo.org/animals/abouttheanimals/mammals/hoofedmammals/somaliwildass.htm. Retrieved 8 November 2010.
- Zoo Guide - Somali Wild Ass -Animal Encyclopaedia Marwell Wildlife
- "Zoo Basel". Zoobasel.ch. http://zoobasel.ch/tiere/tierbeschreibungen.php?TiereID=122&ZooeinteilungID=3&PHPSESSID=690b0907fe640f2e37606d7f0934071a. Retrieved 2013-02-16.
- "Zoo Basel". Zoobasel.ch. http://www.zoobasel.ch/aktuell/detail.php?NEWSID=140&PHPSESSID=8be9b081e26b26503b123f9ea7cd8ff4. Retrieved 2013-02-16.
- http://www.zoobasel.ch/aktuell/detail.php?NEWSID=187&PHPSESSID=34277fba68d5857ecdb43ae645c9831c%7CZoo Basel|INDIAN RHINO VISION (IRV) 2020
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