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)
The African Wild Ass according to MammalMAP
The African wild ass (Equus asinus) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Critically Endangered.
Well adapted for the desert life, the African wild ass can only be found in the rocky hills and semi-arid bushlands of northeast Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia. Previously its geographic spread also included northern Africa, but due to hunting, numbers have been reduced to as little as 570 individuals.
This ancestor of domestic donkeys resembles a short, stocky horse with long ears on its large head. It has a tufted tail and a stiff, upright mane on the nape of its neck. Its coat is light grey to reddish brown in colour, with a white underbelly and legs, as well as black bands on the legs in the Somalian subspecies. It has long and narrow hooves for a sturdier footing in the rocky desert.
The African wild ass is mainly a grazer of grasses, but eats any type of vegetation, and can go without water for at least three days. They are active during the cooler early mornings and late afternoon, and seek out shade during the hotter parts of the day to rest.
They breed during the wet season and females have a gestation period of one year, giving birth to one foal.
African wild asses are protected by law, but these laws are difficult to enforce and illegal hunting still occur. Research is currently being done to study population size, habitat requirements and threats, in order for better management of this species.
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 (Watson 1982). 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 (Watson 1982). The Somali Wild Ass, E. a. somaliensis, 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. 2013).
The current range of the African Wild Ass in Ethiopia and Eritrea is approximately 23,000 km2 (Kebede 2013, Teclai 2006). 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) is specific to the Eritrean population (haplotype D); one haplotype specific to the Ethiopian population (haplotype 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
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
Listed as Critically Endangered as the species numbers (at best approximately 200 mature individuals) may be undergoing acontinuing decline due to climate and human/livestock impact, and no subpopulation numbers in excess of 50 mature individuals. The species may also meet the threshold for Critically Endangered under D, as there may be less than 50 mature individuals in the wild.
- Critically Endangered (CR)
- 1996Critically Endangered (CR)
- 1994Endangered (E)
- 1990Endangered (E)
- 1988Endangered (E)
- 1986Endangered (E)
In Eritrea, there are limited long-term data. The first successful survey was made in 1996 (Moehlman et al. 1998) and there has been a research and conservation programme with the Ministry of Agriculture and Hamelmalo Agricultural College. 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 (Klingel 1977). This is a limited study area (100 km2), but recent research indicates that African Wild Ass currently inhabit approximately 11,000 km2 in the Denkelia desert (Teclai 2006). Surveys and Maxent analyses of suitable habitat 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 1978-1980, Watson (1982) did aerial surveys in northern Somalia and estimated that there was a population of 4,000-6,000 African wild ass in the area from the Nugaal Valley to the Djibouti border. Given the area covered by the survey, this would indicate approximately six African wild ass per 100 sq km. In 1979/82 Simonetta and Simonetta (1983) estimated that there were about 250 African Wild Ass in the northwestern Nugaal Valley and that there were about 50 African Wild Ass near Meit, with scattered groups along the coast in the Erigavo region. In 1989 (Moehlman 1998) a ground survey with limited aerial reconnaissance in the Nugaal Valley yielded population estimates of roughly 135 to 205 wild asses or approximately 2.7 to 4.1 asses per 100 km2. This indicates that there perhaps has been a significant reduction in the African wild ass population during the decade between those surveys. In 1997, Moehlman returned to the Nugaal Valley but was not able to survey the entire area. Local pastoralists said that there was less than ten African wild ass left in the Nugaal Valley (Moehlman et al. 2013). Some animals may remain near Meit and Erigavo, but this area has not been surveyed since the 1970s (Moehlman et al. 2013). It is not known if African Wild Ass currently persists in Somalia.
In summary, the total number of observed African Wild Ass in Eritrea and Ethiopia is roughly 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).
The major threat to the African Wild Ass is hunting for food and medicinal purposes; for example, body parts and soup made from bones are used for treating tuberculosis, constipation, rheumatism, backache, and bone ache (Kebede 1999, Moehlman 2002, Moehlman et al. 2013). Limited access to drinking water and forage (largely due to competition with livestock) is also a major constraint, with reproductive females and foals less than three-months old most at risk. Hence, it will continue to be important to determine critical water supplies and basic forage requirements, allowing management authorities to determine (in consultation with local pastoralists) how to conserve the African Wild Ass (Kebede 1999, 2007; Moehlman 2002; Teclai 2006; Moehlman et al. 2013). The third possible threat to the survival of the African Wild Ass is potential interbreeding with the domestic donkey (Moehlman 2002, Moehlman et al. 2013). However, there is no scientific evidence that indicates hybridization of Equus africanus somaliensis with domestic donkeys (Kebede 2013).
The African Wild Ass is listed as CITES Appendix I in both Ethiopia and Eritrea. Populations of Somali Wild Ass are maintained in captivity (Moehlman 2002, Kebede 2013).
Recommended research and conservation actions, include:
- Ecosystems based and population dynamics research on the African Wild Ass in Eritrea and Ethiopia
- Research on interactions among pastoralists, livestock, wildlife and the environment
- Awareness campaign with local communities in Ethiopia on medicine/veterinary care
- Continued employment and training of local pastoralists as scouts
- Continued education and awareness campaigns on the ecological and cultural roles of wildlife
- Continued workshops and active involvement of local pastoralists in the preparation of management plans
- Post-graduate training of personnel in Eritrea and Ethiopia
- Surveys in Eritrea, Djibouti, Sudan and Egypt to determine current distribution of African Wild Ass
- Genetic research on the African Wild Ass and local domestic donkey populations to clarify the genetic status of the two subspecies.
Nubian wild ass
|This article possibly contains original research. (January 2013)|
The Nubian wild ass (Equus africanus africanus) is a subspecies of the African wild ass, and probably the ancestor of domestic donkeys,. The ass was domesticated about 6,000 years ago, probably in Egypt or Mesopotamia.
The Nubian wild ass is most likely extinct in the wild since the 1950s. However, the IUCN Red List  still mentions it as critically endangered. It is closely related to the Somali wild ass, which is also on the brink of extinction in the wild.
In 2014, blood samples from four individual wild donkeys from the island of Bonaire were sent to the Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences at Texas A&M University to have Mitochondrial DNA sequencing done to determine the identity of this species. The tests results were conclusive that the donkeys "had perfect match to haplotypes of historic Nubian Wild Ass" and that "this result indicates that the Bonaire donkeys are direct descendants of the Nubian." Full 5-page report here:Wildlife Ecologist, Member of the IUCN Species Survival Commission and President of the Andean Tapir Fund/Wild Horse and Burro Fund, Craig C. Downer has urged in a letter dated March 6, 2014, to the Honorable Governor of Bonaire that the government of Bonaire protect the donkeys as a Critically Endangered (CR) subspecies. Downer's letter: In addition, expert biologist, Robert C. Bauer also wrote a letter to the Bonairean government illustrating the importance of the wild donkeys to the natural ecosystem there. Like Craig Downer's letter, it explained in detail the very important ecological niche that is filled by the wild donkeys. Bauer's letter here: To date, no action has been taken by the government. Male donkeys are currently being captured, tagged and castrated by the "Donkey Sanctuary of Bonaire" and released, pregnant females are being held captive and young males castrated, under contract with the local government. Local organizations are being formed to save the species. The "Citizens For a Better and Safer Animal-Friendly Bonaire" organization called upon Mr. Downer who traveled to Bonaire July 2014 to conduct additional research. Craig Downer's highly detailed statement was presented to government decision-makers. Read here:  The Bonairean government has still not stopped the castrations. On October 23, 2014 after worldwide and local pressures, the Governor of Bonaire put a temporary halt to the donkey castrations for the period of 6 months, by letter to the Donkey Sanctuary of Bonaire. Local conservation groups on Bonaire report that Donkey Sanctuary Bonaire continues to capture female donkeys and their offspring to be held in captivity.
The Nubian wild ass is known for its stamina. It has a slender body and a stripe across the shoulder. Its head is rather large, with two long slender ears. The shoulder height of the Nubian wild ass is about 120 centimeters. Skin color varies from light brown to gray.
Nubian wild asses used to live in the northeast of Africa, ranging from mountains and rocky areas to semideserts and grasslands. Feeding occurs during the night and early morning. The diet includes grasses and types of forbs. During the heat of day, the Nubian wild ass takes refuge in the shade.
Males tend to live alone or in small groups. Females and young animals live in herds. There is no strict hierarchy in the herd, and when fights erupt, the animals kick and bite each other.
After almost a year of gestation, the female typically gives birth to one foal. The mother and foal separate themselves from the herd until the foal is able to recognize its mother.
- Equid Specialist Group (1996). Equus africanus ssp. africanus. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. www.iucnredlist.org. Retrieved on 18 May 2008.
- (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.
- Wynne Parry, Wynne (July 29, 2010). "Donkey's Wild Ass Ancestor Confirmed". Retrieved 15 November 2014.
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