African Wild Ass
(Equus asinus)
The African wild ass is a hardy animal which is well adapted to desert life. It can sustain water loss of up to 30% of its body weight, and can drink enough water in two to five minutes to restore fluid loss. The species was domesticated about 6,000 years ago, and is mentioned frequently in the Bible. Domestic donkeys are now found all over the world, yet only a few hundred of their wild ancestors survive. Populations of wild asses are decreasing as a result of hunting, competition with livestock for limited desert resources, and hybridization with domestic donkey.
Urgent Conservation Actions
Reduction of conflict between pastoralists and wild asses, improved protection and management of existing populations, education programmes, and the establishment of additional reserves.
Northeast Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia.
Associated Blog Posts
10th Jul 12
The African wild ass (Equus africanus) can cope with a high dehydration level of 30%, and like other desert-dwellers once it gets access to water it can rest...  Read

Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Perissodactyla
Family: Equidae

Horses are perissodactyls (odd-toed ungulates), a group of herbivores that also includes rhinoceroses and tapirs. The first horses appeared in the early Eocene of North America, around 56 million years ago. They were the size of small dogs and had several toes on each foot, unlike the single hooves of modern horses. These early horses closely resembled the ancestors of rhinos and tapirs. They were browsers, and lived in forests and savannas. During the Miocene (25-8 mya) climate change led to a reduction in the amount of forest cover and an increase in grasslands. This was a time of great evolutionary change for the early equids, with many groups evolving larger body sizes and adapting to a grazing lifestyle. Horse diversity peaked in the mid-Miocene (11-9.5 mya), with more than a dozen different genera evolving in many different sizes.

Since that time horse diversity has gradually decreased, with all forms becoming extinct with the exception of the modern horse genus, Equus. This genus first evolved during the North American Pliocene (4.5 to 1.8 million years ago). Members of this successful genus spread throughout Asia, Europe, Africa and South America during the first major glaciations of the late Pliocene (2.6 mya). However, in the late Pleistocene (around 12,000 years ago) all of the New World horse species became extinct, along with most other large mammals in North and South America. Today, wild horses are found only in parts of Africa and Asia. They are classified into four main groups within the genus Equus:

Asiatic Wild Asses
Kulan and Onager (Equus hemionus)
Kiang (Equus kiang)

African Wild Asses
African Wild Ass (Equus africanus)

Caballine (True) Horses
Przewalski's Horse (Equus caballus)

Grevy's Zebra (Equus grevyi)
Burchell's Zebra (Equus burchelli)
Mountain Zebra (Equus zebra)

Head and body length: 200 cm
Shoulder height: 125 cm
Tail length: 45 cm
Weight: 250 kg
The ancestor of all domestic donkeys, the African wild ass resembles a small, stocky horse with a large head, long ears and a tufted tail. Its smooth coat varies in colour from light grey to reddish brown, with white underparts and legs. Most individuals have a dark stripe along the backbone, and the Somalian subspecies has additional black bands on its legs. The mane consists of stiff, upright hairs on the nape of the neck, and the hooves are long and narrow, designed for surefootedness rather than speed.
The species is predominantly a grazer, eating mostly grasses when available, but also herbs and general browse. Although the animals are well adapted to desert life, they need to drink water at least once every three days, and most individuals are observed within 30 km of a water source. The species is most active in the early morning and late afternoon, when the desert is cooler. During the hottest part of the day the animals seek out shade in nearby rocky hills in which to rest. The asses live in temporary groups which are typically composed of fewer than five individuals. Food availability appears to be the main factor limiting group size. The animals may stay together for a day or several weeks, depending on resources. There is no indication of permanent bonds between adults, the only stable unit being mother and offspring. Adult males are often solitary and sometimes territorial, although they tolerate subordinate males at their boundaries. Dominant males are thought to maintain a territory near a water source, which gives them exclusive access to mate with visiting females. Indeed, only territorial males have been observed mating with oestrous females, in line with the social organisation of other equids that live in arid habitats. Breeding occurs during the wet season, with most births occurring between October and February. The gestation period is one year. Females are thought to reach sexual maturity at around 3-4 years, and give birth to one foal every other year thereafter. The lifespan of wild asses is thought to be around 25-30 years.
The species inhabits arid areas such as hilly and stony deserts, arid and semi-arid bushlands and grasslands. It avoids sandy areas, such as the dune regions of the Sahara. Access to surface water is essential.
Previously occurred in northern Africa, from the Moroccan Atlas Mountains to Somalia, and possibly the Arabian Peninsular. The species is now found only as small scattered populations in northeast Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia.
Population Estimate
Fewer than 570 individuals are thought to survive. Up to 400 individuals are believed to survive in Eritrea, fewer than 160 in Ethiopia, and fewer than 10 in Somalia. Some 1500 individuals are present in Sudan, although these may be feral.
Population Trend
The species is decreasing in all areas of its range with the exception of Eritrea. Evidence suggests that African wild asses in Somalia declined by 50% in the 1980s. Large declines in ass populations within Ethiopia have also been documented. Only Eritrea has a stable African wild ass population.
Classified as Critically Endangered (CR A (i)) on the 2010 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The species is hunted for its meat and body parts, which are used in traditional medicine. This has been particularly detrimental to populations in Ethiopia and Somalia, where political instability has allowed increased access to automatic weapons and ammunition. The species has been forced to compete for food with domestic livestock throughout its range, and has been excluded from water sources in some areas because of agricultural development. Hybridization as a result of interbreeding between the wild ass and domestic donkeys is a further threat to the genetically distinct wild populations.
Conservation Underway
The species is protected by law in Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia, although these laws are difficult to enforce and illegal hunting still occurs. The species occurs in the Yangudi-Rassa National Park and the Mille- Serdo Wild Ass Reserve (est. 1969) in Ethiopia. However, the Yangudi-Rassa National Park has never been gazetted, and both areas are utilised by large numbers of pastoralists and their livestock. There are at least 64 Somalian wild ass in captivity (ISIS 2006), as well as a protected population in the Yotvata Hai-Bar (Wildlife Preserve) Nature Reserve in Israel, which was established in 1968.

Research is currently underway into population size, ecology habitat requirements and threats in order to inform management decisions for the species.
Conservation Proposed
The IUCN/SSC has produced an Action Plan for the species. The primary recommendation is to reduce conflicts between pastoralists and wild asses, and improve the protection and management of existing populations. This may include education programmes and the establishment of additional reserves.

Other recommendations include clarifying the genetic status of the two subspecies (this work would also quantify the amount of hybridisation with domestic donkeys), conducting surveys in areas where the animals are not currently being monitored, including northern Eritrea, Sudan and Egypt, monitoring known populations, and conducting further research into the basic biology, seasonal movements and interaction with livestock. Such data could then be used to determine how best to conserve the species.

IUCN/SSC Equid Specialist Group
Dr. Patricia Moehlman, the Chair of the IUCN/SSC Equid Specialist Group, is in contact with each of the members of the group and, for simplicity, will route initial comments and questions. For any question about the work of the Equid Specialist Group, the status of equids, ongoing projects, or ways you may assist in equid conservation, please contact: Dr. Patricia Moehlman Email: tan.guides@habari.co.tz Secondary Email: PDMBHF@aol.com

Animal Info. (Oct 2005).

ARKive. (Oct 2005).

IUCN/SSC Equid Specialist Group

Moehlman, P.D., Yohannes, H., Teclai, R. & Kebede, F. 2008. Equus africanus. In: IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4.2010 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. . Downloaded on 14 November 2010.

Moehlman, P.D. (ed). 2002. Equids: Zebras, Asses, and Horses: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SCC Equid Specialist Group, IUCN (The World Conservation Union), Gland Switzerland and Cambridge, England.

Nowak, R.M. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World. Sixth edition. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.

World conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC)/WWF Species Under Threat. (July 2005).

Distribution map based on data provided by the IUCN Global Mammal Assessment.

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