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Cool Critter: African Wild Ass

April 25, 2009

Tee hee.

According to Wordnet, the African Wild Ass is “a wild ass of Africa.” True, but that makes us laugh too.

Seriously, now…The African Wild Ass is the king (ancestrally-speaking) of the asses. The domestic donkey is a descendent of the African Wild Ass, as is the burro. Actually, the burro is a direct descendent of the domesticated African Wild Asses the Spanish brought to the Southwestern U.S. in the 1600s.

African Wild Asses are found in arid regions of northeastern Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia. They eat grass, bark and leaves and are able to go two to three days without water. In fact, they can survive losing 30% of their body weight in water and can drink enough water in two to five minutes to restore that fluid loss. (That’s cool fact #2.* This critter’s name predisposes it to “cool critter” status. Therefore, cool fact #1 is that there’s a critter called an African Wild Ass.)

Since edible vegetation is sparse in their desert habitat (go figure) African Wild Asses don’t live in tight herds like wild horses or other equid species. Instead, they spread out. (Most asses are likely still within hearing distance, however, since the bray of the African Wild Ass can be heard two miles away.) Some asses live solitary lives, some live in temporary associations of five or so individuals and some mature males are territorial. These territorial males typically defend an area of approximately nine square miles that includes a water source and adequate forage—to entice the ladies, of course—and mark their turf’s boundaries with dung heaps. The dominant male allows females and other males to cross his dung borders, but only the dominant male mates with the females.

There are two species of African Wild Asses—Nubian Wild Asses and Somali Wild Assess. Both species are listed as critically endangered by the IUCN although some people believe that Nubian Wild Asses are now extinct.

In 2008, the IUCN reported that there are no more than 200 and possibly less than 50 mature African Wild Asses in the wild. While African Wild Asses are often removed from the wild for domestication, hunting is the primary threat to the survival of the wild population. The meat and bones of the animal are used for food and traditional medicines thought to treat a whole bunch of things, including tuberculosis, constipation, backache and rheumatism. Obviously, it’s hard for a population of animals to survive when people are killing them, but direct threats from humans aren’t the wild asses’ only problems. They’re threatened by habitat loss and a reduction in resource availability as they are forced to compete with a growing number of livestock for a dwindling amount of food and water. Finally, African Wild Asses have a bad habit of interbreeding with domesticated donkeys, which certainly doesn’t help the survival of the pure, wild population…Silly asses.

There are plenty of asses in the world, but the number of wild asses is small—and shrinking. Here’s your call to arms, readers: Save the Wild Ass!

*Cool fact #3: They’re fast. Scientists have recorded African Wild Asses running at a speed of 31 mph.


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