African Wild Ass, Equus africanus

The African wild ass (Equus africanus) is a species within the Equidae family that is thought to be that ancestor of the domestic donkey. This species resides in arid habitats in a range that includes the Horn of Africa, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. This species hold four subspecies, including the Somali wild ass and the Nubian wild ass.

The African wild ass reaches an average body length of 6.6 feet, a height between 12.1 and 14.1 hands at the shoulders, and a weight between 510 and 610 pounds. Its fur is short and smooth and can vary from fawn to light grey in color, which fades into white on the legs and underbelly. All of the subspecies hold a thin, dark dorsal stripe. The Nubian wild ass holds a stripe along the shoulders and the Somali wild ass holds stripes on its lower legs, similar to those of zebras.

Because it lives in arid regions, the African wild ass is primarily active during the cooler hours of the morning and afternoon and rest in the shade of trees or rocks during the day. Males hold a territory of up to 8.8 square miles of land, which they mark with heaps of dung. Because these homes ranges are so large, dominant males cannot keep other males out of the area, but they can try to control them and keep them away from breeding females.

When threatened, the African wild ass does not typically run away, instead choosing to investigate the disturbance first. If defense is necessary, this species can kick with its hind and front legs. If escaping is the best option, it can run nearly as fast as a horse. The diet of this species consists of leaves, grasses, and bark. Although it is adapted to living in desert climates, it still relies on fresh water sources, as well as the water it receives from its food.

The African wild ass is not in danger of extinction, although two of its subspecies are listed on the IUCN Red List as critically endangered and two are extinct. However, because of domestication and breeding practices, there are only about 570 individuals in the wild today. In Ethiopia and Somalia, they are hunted for food and traditional medicine practices and it is threatened by restricted access to water and competition with domestic livestock for food. This species is protected in some areas of its range, although protection measures can be difficult to enforce, and one population of the Somalia wild ass resides in a reserve in Israel. Breeding programs have been enacted to help save this species, and it is thought that it could increase in number if conservation efforts are successful.

Image Caption: Wild Ass. Credit: päts/Wikipedia (CC BY 2.0)