IUCN Status: Critically Endangered
Quick Fact: African wild ass are hunted for both food and traditional medicine
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The wild ass is thought to be the origin species for the donkey, which was domesticated over 6,000 years ago in North Africa, and the name derives from the latin word for the donkey asinus. The Somali or African wild ass lives in small herds in the hot desert grasslands of the Horn of Africa. One of the smallest of the true wild horses (equids) the Somali wild ass has striking grayish coat coloration with contrasting zebra-like fine, black stripes on their legs.
The Somali wild ass from the Horn of Africa is one of the rarest wild equids in the world with less than 2000 animals thought to exist in widely scattered herds. Threats from competition with domestic farm animals for sparse desert grass and water resources have resulted in severe declines in numbers of African wild ass. Few protective measures are in place for the wild population and the remaining animals are fragmented and dangerously dwindling.
In 2008, White Oak acquired a herd of Somali wild ass to participate with international efforts to help save this species from extinction. As one of three institutions in the US breeding this species, we work closely with zoo partners in Conservation Centers for Species Survival to ensure a strong captive program is in place, as an insurance against the extinction of the wild population of Somali wild ass. Since their arrival in 2008, White Oak has produced 20 foals, including four born in 2015. White Oak’s success with this endangered species is due to its spacious facilities and staff experience with other endangered equine species such as the Grevy’s Zebra.