The Somali wild ass from the Horn of Africa is one of the rarest wild equids in the world with less than 200 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.
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.
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 five institutions in the US breeding this species, we work closely with zoo partners in Conservation Centers for Species Survival to ensure a strong sustainability program is in place, as an insurance against the extinction of the wild population of Somali wild ass. Since their arrival, White Oak has produced 20 foals. 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.