The African wild ass is a highly endangered equidae. Numbers have decreased by ninety per cent in the past two decades. And, like so many other poor unfortunates, the wild ass is hunted for, here we go again, traditional medicine. Amongst other things, its bones are boiled up to make a cure-all soup for the heartless and ill-informed.
The ancestor of all domestic donkeys, the species was domesticated about six thousand years ago. It’s hard to enter any country without seeing a domesticated donkey somewhere, yet only a few hundred of their wild ancestors are still in existence.
African wild asses have a smooth coat, which varies from light grey to fawn becoming white on the undersides and legs. Most have a dark stripe along the back and the Somalian subspecies has black horizontal stripes on its legs. They all have a stiff, upright mane. They can reach a height of five and a half feet (16.2) at the shoulder and are about six and a half feet in length.
The species is crepuscular, feeding during twilight hours when the temperatures are lower. The day is spend resting in the shade of the rocky hills. They are fast and sure-footed over the rough terrain, and can reach speeds of up to thirty miles per hour.
Although well-adapted to the arid climate, they do need surface water. Most stay permanently within twenty miles of water. Moisture is extracted from the vegetation they consume. They can survive with very little liquid, but need to drink at least once every three days, and lactating females need to drink every day. Therefore a surface water supply is essential to them. Unfortunately, access to water (and food) is often limited due to competition with livestock.
African wild asses live in small herds, typically consisting of fewer than five animals. Only the mother and her foal form long-term relationships. Following mating, the gestation period is relatively long; eleven to twelve months. Usually, only one foal is born. The foal will be weaned at six to eight months, and reach sexual maturity at two years.
Rocky deserts, arid and semi-arid bushlands and grasslands, where there is access to surface water.
Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia.
What they eat
Grasses, bark and leaves.
Hunting for food and traditional medicine. Competition from domestic livestock for food and water supplies. Interbreeding between wild and domestic donkeys, resulting in hybridisation.
Status: Critically Endangered
The African Wild Ass (Equus africanus) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Critically Endangered. Fewer than five hundred and seventy individuals are thought to still exist, the least number being in Somalia. The species is protected by law in Somalia and Ethiopia, but, these laws are difficult to enforce and illegal hunting still goes on. The use of automatic weapons is common in some areas.
African wild asses are kept in captivity around the world and breeding programs do exist. These have been very successful and births have occurred. Indeed, the image above portrays a foal named Hakaba, born in 2010 at the Basel Zoo, Switzerland. It is unclear, though, whether any of these animals will ever be returned to their natural environment.
“In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.”