Animal Info - African Wild Ass

(Other Names: 非洲野驴, アフリカノロバ, Abyssinian Wild Ass, Adghi Bareka, African Ass, African Wild Donkey, Afrikanischer Wildesel, Ane Sauvage d'Afrique, Ane Sauvage de Nubie, Asno Salvaje de Africa, Dabokali, Dibakoli, Guduri, Gumburi, Gumburiga, Nubian Wild Ass, Punda, Somali Wild Ass, Somali Wild Donkey)

Equus africanus (E. asinus)

Status: Critically Endangered


Contents

1. Profile (Picture)
2. Tidbits
3. Status and Trends (IUCN Status, Countries Where Currently Found, Population Estimates, History of Distribution, Threats and Reasons for Decline)
4. Data on Biology and Ecology (Size and Weight, Habitat, Age to Maturity, Gestation Period, Birth Season, Birth Rate, Maximum Reproductive Age, Maximum Age, Diet, Behavior, Social Organization, Density and Range)
5. References


Profile

Pictures: African Wild Ass (28 Kb JPEG) (Huffman 2004); African Wild Ass (33 Kb JPEG)

The upper parts of the African wild ass are buff-gray in summer and iron-gray in winter; the mane is sparse but erect; and it has variable transverse leg stripes. It has a length of about 2 m (6.5') and weighs about 200 kg (440 lb). The African wild ass is found mostly in hilly and stony deserts, and arid to semi-arid bushlands and grasslands. It appears primarily to be a grazer and to eat mainly grasses. Although the African wild ass is physiologically well adapted to life in the desert, it still needs access to surface water. During aerial surveys in the Danakil Desert of Ethiopia, most African wild asses were observed within 30 km (20 mi) of known water sources. A lactating female needs to drink every day. The African wild ass is crepuscular and nocturnal. It will often retreat into rocky hills and seek shade during the day. It is most active when the weather is cooler. 

The African wild ass lives in groups that are mostly temporary and typically composed of fewer than 5 individuals. The groups are small because the amount of forage in any given area of the African wild ass' habitat is not adequate to support larger groups. The only stable groups are composed of a female and her offspring. Adult males are frequently solitary, but they sometimes associate with other males. Some adult males are territorial, defending a territory that contains the resources that females require (typically water and forage). Other males are tolerated within the territory's boundaries, but the resident male retains exclusive access to mate with receptive females that enter the territory. Only territorial males have been observed mating with females that are capable of breeding. 

The African wild ass was probably once widespread from the Moroccan Atlas across Saharan and possibly Sahelian Africa to the Sudanese and Somalian arid zones and possibly the Arabian Peninsula. It was found in regions with a brief annual rainfall of 100 - 200 mm (4 - 8"). Currently, the African wild ass occurs only in northeast Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia. Evidence suggests that African wild asses in Somalia declined by 50% in the 1980s. Large declines in the wild asses within Ethiopia have been documented as well. Only Eritrea has a small but stable African wild ass population.  The major threats to the survival of the African wild ass are: hunting the wild ass for food and medicinal purposes, potential competition with livestock for forage and water, and interbreeding with the domestic donkey.


Tidbits

*** The African wild ass is one of the world's rarest mammals.

*** "[During] a long and pleasant interview with Aden Abdullah Osman, the President of the Somali Republic, ... an amusing exchange took place... I was particularly interested in getting some protection for the wild ass and the President, after listening gravely to my plea, said in effect: 'My country is under attack by the Ethiopians, my people are largely illiterate, my treasury is nearly empty and you ask me about the wild ass' ". (Crowe 1967)

*** The African wild ass is the ancestor of the domestic donkey.

*** The African wild ass has been clocked running at up to 50 kph (31 mph).

*** Mules are the hybrid offspring of a male ass (donkey) and a female horse. Mules are usually sterile.

*** The African wild ass can lose almost a third of its body weight in water and still survive (IUCN/SSC Eq. Spec. Gr. 2004)


Status and Trends

IUCN Status:

Countries Where the African Wild Ass Is Currently Found:

2004: Occurs in Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia (Moehlman 2002a, IUCN/SSC Eq. Spec. Gr. 2004).

Population Estimates:

[Note: Figures given are for wild populations only.]

History of Distribution:

The African wild ass was probably once widespread from the Moroccan Atlas across Saharan and possibly Sahelian Africa to the Sudanese and Somalian arid zones and possibly the Arabian Peninsula. It was found in regions with a brief annual rainfall of 100 - 200 mm (4 - 8"). 

Today, the African wild ass occurs only in northeast Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia. Evidence suggests that African wild asses in Somalia declined by 50% in the 1980s. Large declines in the wild asses within Ethiopia have been documented as well. Only Eritrea has a small but stable African wild ass population. (IUCN/SSC Eq. Spec. Gr. 2004).

Distribution Map #1 (28 Kb GIF) (IUCN/SSC Eq. Spec. Gr. 2004)
Distribution Map #2 (14 Kb GIF) (African Mammals Databank 2004)

Threats and Reasons for Decline:

The major threats to the survival of the African wild ass are: hunting the wild ass for food and medicinal purposes, potential competition with livestock for forage and water, and interbreeding with the domestic donkey (Moehlman 2002a).


Data on Biology and Ecology

Size and Weight:

The African wild ass has a length of 2 - 2.3 m (6.5 - 7.5'). It weighs 200 - 230 kg (440 - 510 lb). (Burnie & Wilson 2001)

Habitat:

The African wild ass is found mostly in hilly and stony deserts and arid to semi-arid bushlands and grasslands. It avoids sandy areas and has always been absent from the sandy dune regions of the Sahara. Access to surface water is essential.

It is found in regions with an annual rainfall of 100 - 200 mm (4 - 8"), where the ground temperature exceeds 50 C (122 F). 

Age to Maturity:

Male equids are capable of breeding in their second year, but, because of intra-sexual competition, in natural societies they rarely do so before 4 years of age (Duncan 1992).  Limited data indicate that a female wild ass has her first foal at age 3 - 4 years (Moehlman 2002a).

Gestation Period:

About 1 year. In feral asses, gestation is 330 - 365 days (Moehlman 2002a).

Birth Season:

Breeding in the wild is restricted to the wet season (Nowak 1999). Births occur from October - February (Moehlman 2002a).

Birth Rate:

A female African wild ass will typically have one surviving foal every other year (Moehlman 2002a).

Maximum Reproductive Age:

In domestication, a female African wild ass may produce young for 20 years (Nowak 1999).

Maximum Age:

Up to 40 years (captivity).

Diet:

The African wild ass appears primarily to be a grazer (Moehlman 2002a). In the wild, the African wild ass is thought to eat mainly grasses (Kingdon 1997). One study of a feral population in Arizona, USA found the diet to include 22% grasses and sedges, 33% forbs, and 40% browse (Nowak 1999). The African wild ass is well adapted to graze the hardest of desert grasses. It uses its incisors and hooves to break open tussocks. 

Although the African wild ass is physiologically well adapted to life in the desert, it still needs access to surface water. During aerial surveys in the Danakil Desert of Ethiopia, most African wild asses were observed within 30 km (20 mi) of known water sources. The movements of a lactating female are severely constrained by water availability - it needs to drink every day. (Moehlman 2002a)

Behavior:

The African wild ass is crepuscular and nocturnal. It will often retreat into rocky hills and seek shade during the day. It is most active when the weather is cooler. 

The African wild ass has been clocked running at up to 50 kph (31 mph) (Nowak 1999).

Social Organization:

The African wild ass lives in groups that are mostly temporary and typically composed of fewer than 5 individuals. Evidence from other equid species suggests that groups of African wild asses are small because forage availability is low: there isn't enough forage in a given patch of land to support larger groups. The only stable groups are composed of a female and her offspring. In temporary groups, the sex and age-group structure varies from single-sex adult groups to mixed groups of males and females of all ages. Adult males are frequently solitary, but they sometimes associate with other males. (Moehlman 2002a, IUCN/SSC Eq. Spec. Gr. 2004)

Some adult males are territorial, defending a territory that contains the resources that females require (typically water and forage). Other males are tolerated within the territory's boundaries, but the resident male retains exclusive access to mate with receptive females that enter the territory. Only territorial males have been observed mating with females that are capable of breeding. This is characteristic of a resource-defense polygyny mating system. This social organization is typical of equids that live in arid habitats (also see Grevy’s zebra). (Moehlman 2002a)

Density and Range:

Density: 

  • Ethiopia (1970 - 71): 18.6 individuals/100 sq km (48 individuals/100 sq mi) (Teo area, Tendaho-Serdo area, and Lake Abbe area); highest was 30 individuals/100 sq km (78 individuals/100 sq mi) (Teo area) (Moehlman 2002a)
  • Ethiopia (1976): 21 individuals/100 sq km (55 individuals/100 sq mi) (Teo area) (Moehlman 2002a)
  • Somalia (1978 - 80): 6 individuals/100 sq km (16 individuals/100 sq mi) (Nugaal Valley - Djibouti border) (Moehlman 2002a)
  • Somalia (1989): 2.7 - 4.1 individuals/100 sq km (7.0 - 10.7 individuals/100 sq mi) (Nugaal Valley) (Moehlman 2002a)
  • Eritrea (1998): most locations: less than 1 individual/sq km (3 individuals/sq mi); maximum: 47 individuals/100 sq km (122 individuals/100 sq mi) (this is the highest population density found anywhere in the present range of the species) (Moehlman 2002a)

Home Range:

  • Some males defend large territories, averaging 23 sq km (8.9 sq mi). In a study of a feral population in Arizona, USA, it was found that the animals there had a mean annual home range of 19.2 sq km (7.4 sq mi). (Nowak 1999)

References

African Mammals Databank 2004, Arkive, Blower 1968, Burnie & Wilson 2001, Burton & Pearson 1987, Clark 1983, Crowe 1967, Curry-Lindahl 1972, Duncan 1992, Huffman 2004, IUCN 1966, IUCN 1968, IUCN 1994, IUCN 1996, IUCN 2000, IUCN 2003a, IUCN 2004, IUCN/SSC Eq. Spec. Gr. 2004, Kingdon 1997, Macdonald 1984, Moehlman 2002a, Nowak 1999, Nowak & Paradiso 1983, Oryx 1966b, Oryx 1971, Oryx 1972c, Oryx 1995, Stuart & Stuart 1996, Talbot 1960, WCMC/WWF 1997


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Last modified: May 31, 2005;

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